When the New Paltz Town Board meeting was opened last Thursday, the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance was a bit louder and more passionate than usual. That’s because some 30 members of the local VFW post showed up to show their support for a resolution requiring all volunteer town boards and committees to begin their meetings with it. They were responding to a decision by town Planning Board members not to add the Pledge to that board’s agenda out of concern it would become divisive; Planning Board member Amy Cohen, who had introduced the idea, spoke on a Fox program about that decision afterward, igniting a firestorm of protest that lasted a few days.
VFW senior vice commander Dietrich Orris said that the veterans were there to try to inspire board members to reconsider a resolution to add the pledge to all board agendas; council member Jeff Logan had introduced it, but it was not even seconded for discussion. “The Pledge of Allegiance has been greatly misinterpreted,” he said. “It’s for all of us.”
According to Deputy Supervisor Dan Torres, who has since researched the question, the Town Board hasn’t got the legal authority to require recitation of the Pledge, or even placing it on agendas. He said that a response he received from the Association of Towns advised that each board adopts its own procedures, meaning that a Town Council resolution would have no practical effect. While the council could pass a local law, that would invite lawsuits because it would likely violate the First Amendment.
“On the town board we opt to say the pledge,” Torres said, and they would continue to do so.
The next stop for VFW members will likely be at a Planning Board meeting, to try to convince members there directly to change that board’s procedures.