Michigan’s independent citizens redistricting commission voted down a measure to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at its meetings following a contentious discussion during a meeting of the commissioners Thursday.

The motion to begin commission meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance was made by Commissioner Doug Clark, a 74-year-old Republican commissioner from Rochester Hills.

“I think it’s our patriotic duty to say it. I mean we’re part of this nation and I believe that’s the right thing to do,” Clark said.

Brittni Kellom, the 34-year-old Democratic commissioner from Detroit who chairs the commission, disagreed. “I don’t feel like that’s my American duty to say that,” she said. “I think that I can be an American and a great African-American and a great person without saying those words.”

The pledge of allegiance as well as the national anthem have stirred controversies over patriotism, freedom of speech and reckoning with injustice in the U.S. American athletes protesting police brutality and racism by kneeling during the national anthem at sporting events drew national attention during Donald Trump’s presidency.

Pointing to such controversies, commissioners raised concerns that reciting the pledge would divide the commission and create a heated atmosphere at public hearings where the group of randomly selected citizens in charge of drawing new congressional and legislative districts will solicit input from communities across the state.

Commissioner Rebecca Szetela, a 47-year-old independent commissioner from Canton, said her biggest concern was that reciting the pledge would prove “unnecessarily divisive.” She worried about public meetings in which people might sit during the pledge, creating a hostile atmosphere among members of the public in attendance.

“We want everybody to feel comfortable,” she said.

Dustin Witjes, a 31-year-old Democratic commissioner from Ypsilanti, said that if the commission began its meetings with the pledge, he would turn his camera off and stay silent.

Clark found support for the measure among other Republican commissioners. Rhonda Lange, a 48-year-old Republican commissioner from Reed City, told a story about a friend who had a 22-year-old son who came home from Iraq in a casket wrapped in an American flag.

“He loved this country and that’s what that flag represents,” she said. “I think saying the pledge is just basically saying that we’re all American, let’s come together, let’s treat each other respectfully.”

But M.C. Rothhorn, a 48-year-old Democratic commissioner from Lansing, worried it would divide the group. “I know the intention behind this is to say, ‘let’s unite,’ and it feels like the conversation we are having leads me to believe it won’t unite us,” Rothhorn said.

The motion to recite the pledge at commission meetings was ultimately voted down 5-7 with Republican commissioner Cynthia Orton, 55, of Battle Creek, abstaining.

Clara Hendrickson fact-checks Michigan issues and politics as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support her work at bit.ly/freepRFA. Contact her at [email protected] or 313-296-5743 for comments or to suggest a fact-check. Follow her on Twitter @clarajanehen .

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan redistricting commission votes down measure to recite Pledge of Allegiance


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