Councilman halts Pledge of Allegiance until last man stands up

Councilman halts Pledge of Allegiance until last man stands up

Above, from left, are Joe Hart and Mark Wildenhain.
But Hart says 'ultimatum' violated his free speech rights

PAWTUCKET - Typically, it's about the least controversial thing the City Council does.

President David Moran asks everyone to rise for the Pledge of Allegiance and then assigns a fellow council member to start it. Most of those in the chamber willingly stand, many with hands over their hearts, swearing loyalty to the country.

But the peace and goodwill was nowhere to be found last week when Councilor Mark Wildenhain interrupted the proceedings.

"Can we wait until everyone rises?" asked Wildenhain.

Everyone then waited for Joe Hart, the only one still sitting, to stand up. Hart, who later called Wildenhain's question an "ultimatum" that violated his free speech rights, stood up but turned his back to the American flag on stage. Thinking that the meeting wouldn't proceed if he didn't stand, and with his friends nudging him to do what the councilman was asking, said Hart, he had little choice but to get out of his seat.

Wildenhain says his colleagues on the council have since told him that he's "not entitled" to do what he did, but he plans to continue giving a verbal call for everyone to stand up. What Hart did was a "slap in the face" to everyone who has ever served the United States and the flag that represents it, said Wildenhain, and took "disrespect" to another level.

Wildenhain said he has the right to keep asking Hart to stand, though he conceded that Hart is not required to oblige.

Hart, a Cumberland resident who said he's planning to move to Pawtucket, has been coming to council meetings for many months and said he has never stood up for the Pledge of Allegiance. It's not that he hates his country or is looking to disrespect it, said Hart, but the way he sees it, "when we're all standing up for the pledge, we're agreeing that we're on the same page."

In his view, said Hart, the council doesn't respect the pledge, and he doesn't want to stand up with people he feels don't even believe in what they're saying.

"I'll feel like I'm associating with them," he said.

Hart, who identifies with Libertarian principles of less government intrusion but doesn't call himself a Libertarian, said he believes the council is part of a broader problem in government of wanting to regulate everything. He called it a "cruel thing" that the council could ever deny a license for a church selling alcohol for a fundraiser or an entertainment license for a party when members shouldn't have a say in those events to begin with. The "illusion of freedom" is when the council says yes to a license, said Hart.

"It's sad that they need to create all these permissions and we can't be free people," he said. "I can't stand next to the same people who are trying to take my freedoms."

This isn't about hating the flag or the country it stands for, said Hart, as clearly evidenced by the fact that he regularly wears an American flag bandana, but about hating the idea of going along with people he doesn't agree with just because he's expected to.

Hart, who regularly videotapes council meetings as part of the citizen activist group "Community Response Rhode Island," approached Council President David Moran after last week's meeting to ask Moran whether Wildenhain's request was appropriate. Moran responded that he wasn't sure and would seek a legal opinion on it. Watch the exchange:

Moran told The Breeze later that he heard from City Solicitor Frank Milos who said the council can't force someone to stand up in violation of their free speech rights.

"I as the president always phrase it as 'would you please rise to state the Pledge of Allegiance,'" he said. "I do not make it mandatory."

Wildenhain said he's especially "irritated" by Hart's actions because Hart is a member of a group that's constantly coming before the council to fight for the rights of citizens, openly advocating for body cameras on police officers, among other things.

"If you want your rights, sit back and think about the people before you who fought to give you those rights," he said.

Wildenhain said he's "not impressed" with the Community Response group, and based on Hart's actions, he won't be listening to them with an open mind.

"Their issues aren't on the top of my radar anymore," he said. "I'm not sure how many of their issues I want to pay attention to."

This whole situation may just be a "big joke" to Hart, said Wildenhain, but he puts it on par with burning a flag. Just like you don't have a right to burn a flag, he said, he doesn't believe you have a right to skip saluting it.

Hart, said he finds it scary that a city leader has no qualms about being a "dictator" in violating his First Amendment rights. He said he plans to attend next week's City Council meeting to explain to the council why he plans to continue sitting down during the pledge and why he believes the city needs to "protect the freedom of people."


If Hart were medically legless or speechless this would not even be an issue; this is about what Hart thinks, or at least what Wildenhain thinks that he thinks.

George Orwell's 1949 novel nineteen eighty-four warned about a future of Thought Police whose job was to uncover and punish thoughtcrime and thought-criminals. Every Party member has a telescreen in his or her home, which the Thought Police uses to observe their actions and take note of anything that resembles an unorthodox opinion or an inner struggle.

Now, hold that thought.

This Hart guy is a complete joke. Fine it's his right to not participate in the pledge, but at least have the respect for the flag and what it represents to stand up and face it. Don't put your hand over your heart, don't say the words, but if you want to wear the thing on your head (which is a whole different thing I think is wrong) at least respect it.

First of all, he said he won't be listening to a group of people with an open mind any longer. He can not do the job he was elected to do.

Second; he is wrong. People absolutely have the right to burn the flag, and those people who fought for the right to do so would even tell him that. This country has given its citizens freedom of speech, even if you don't like what they are saying.

From the movie American President:

America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the "land of the free".

I am going to side step the issue of your actions and Wildenhain's. Ask your self your planned move to Pawtucket necessary? You moving to a town that is eventually going to become the next Central Falls. Think wisely, more freedom can be found in numerous other RI towns.

PS- I applaud the set of balls it took to do what you did. Just be smart about what you are fighting for.....there's already enough silliness in those council meeting's.

Anyone who believes in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance should make a point of looking up who Francis Bellamy was, exactly what Bellamy stood for, and why Bellamy wrote "The Pledge." While at it, research the "Bellamy salute" that was originally intended to accompany Pledge of Allegiance. Many people, particularly those who claim to be patriots, will be extremely surprised by what they learn.

If councilman Wilderhain understood the fundamentals of freedom and liberty that the brave men and women he claimed were disrespected fought to protect he would have kept his mouth shut and let the man exercise his rights.

Joe Hart is absolutely correct as we all of the right to not recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Mark Wildenhain might mean well, but he is wrong and it's good that someone is calling Mr. Wildenhain out on it. We should all be grateful to people like Mr. Hart who have the courage to stand up for our freedom!

On September 13-14 in Chesapeake bay British navy bombardment of fort mchenry at 6:00 am the British for 25 straight hrs bombed the fort . On the morning of the 14 of September Francis Scott Key a Washington lawyer negotiate the release of dr. William Beanes a cilivian prison or of war. On theat day at dawn they seen the flag was still waving which inspired mr key to write the star spa gel banner. To this day brave men an women put their lives on the line to defend our freedom. So pease remember the sacrifices that were an are still made for the flag so please respect it an mr. Wildenhain thank you.

Attention addict makes bid for attention - film at 11

The idea of having our children recite a pledge to our nation is out of the Maoist brainwashing book. Expecting adults to recite it or be publicly shamed is embarrassing for the entire city of Pawtucket. As a nation we must set examples for our children everyday that show them why America is great. Expecting adults to recite it is un-American stupid and ridiculous. Glad I don't live in Pawtucket. I've got enough stupid here.

I have served you all in the Military and have asked for nothing in return. However, what I have fought for is liberty and freedom. And that includes freedom of speech. I know it sometimes feels like people take advantage of this but, in reality, that is what I fought for - to allow all Americans to express their views. Even if it means spitting on or burning the flag. You see, I may not agree with these actions but the freedom to do so is exactly why I fought for you. Never lose this perspective. Thank you. Veteran USN, Amphib.

"Can we wait until everyone rises?" Sounds like a (reasonable) request to me. A request, not a demand. Thanks, Councilman.

Another reasonable request would be for you to start a campaign to re-implement the use of the "Bellamy salute" accompanying recital of the Pledge....please let us all know how that campaign works out.

The Bellamy salute was first introduced in the 1800's. Not relevant.

Sarcasm not a concept you comprehend?

Read the story!, Wildenhain stated he doesn't believe you have a right to skip saluting the flag. This wasn't a request, it was an idiot trying to bully a citizen around.

There is a big difference between 'Freedom of Speech' and 'Moronic Values'!

Yes, as an American, with 'Free Speech' being a 'Guaranteed Right', it is indeed a privilege to conduct yourself in an as 'Un-Patriotic Manner' as you so desire...espousing your 'Moronic Behavior' - "Lack of Standards & Values' - etc., etc., etc.

By all means Mr. Hart please continue on behaving as the JERK you are...I am sure it will do a lot of good towards encouraging all that come in contact with you to ignore whatever it may be that you are trying to bring about an awareness to.

Tom Letourneau
Cumberland, RI

Wa, Its a reference to an obscure part of history that nobody is going to get. I understand sarcasm, I also understand humor. You do not.

Wildenhain said he doesn't believe you have a right to skip saluting it. He is wrong about that. But it was still a request.
Hart apparently thought that the meeting wouldn't proceed if he didn't stand, and with his friends nudging him to do what the councilman was asking, said Hart, he had little choice but to get out of his seat.
WTF is that? Of course he had a choice!

This situation reminds me of the 1960’s…“If it feels good, do it!”. After 50 years, I have come to realize that, not everything that “feels good” should be done. Yes, Mr. Hart has every right to act like an unpatriotic contrarian, but that fact does not make his behavior acceptable. He is being disrespectful, no matter what his reasons are. I would remind him, and every other member of a community, that it is always better to DO right, than it is to BE right. Get your point across another way without making yourself look like a buffoon.

Thank you, Stuck. You put my thoughts into words.

Standing up and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance should not be a requirement for attending a city council meeting (or it's continuance). If it is, then you need to take out the word "liberty" in it. The Pledge, without the word "liberty", is meaningless.