The St. Louis Park City Council has decided to drop recital of the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag at its meetings, citing a desire to accommodate the city’s newest and more diverse residents.
“I hope it’s not too controversial,” Council Member Tim Brausen said. “Our community tends to be a very welcoming and increasingly diverse community, and we believe our citizens will understand. I don’t think we’re going to be any less welcoming by not starting our meeting out with the standard ritual.”
The measure, which will take effect July 15, was sponsored by Council Member Anne Mavity, who said that about half the cities in Minnesota do not require the Pledge of Allegiance to be said at council meetings.
However, a spot check of metro and outstate cities found that most of them — Blaine, Brooklyn Center, Burnsville, Duluth, Eden Prairie, Mankato, Maplewood, Rochester, St. Cloud, St. Paul, Stillwater and Wayzata — include the pledge as part of the council meeting agenda. The pledge is not said at council meetings in Minneapolis and Edina.
The St. Louis Park council voted 5-0 at the June 17 meeting to drop the pledge with little discussion. Mayor Jake Spano and Council Member Thom Miller were absent and did not vote.
“We all love our country dearly, and we demonstrate that by our service as elected officials all the time,” Mavity said.
“I want to make sure that we are welcoming to everyone in our community, and so I just felt that was an unnecessary component to include every single week in our work.”
Brausen said in an interview there was concern that saying the pledge intimidates some newer residents, owing to increasing political polarization and the national controversy over federal immigration policies.
“We’ve had some racial equity initiatives going on in the city of St. Louis Park for awhile where we’re trying to get more diverse communities and historically less engaged communities to come and participate in our public process,” he said. “Given the current Washington politics that are going on now, there’s a lot of people that are afraid of our government, and we worry about that.”
According to U.S. Census data from 2018, St. Louis Park has a population of just over 49,000 residents. Of that total, 83% are white, 7.7% are black, 3.8% are Latino, 3.7% are Asian and 3.3% cite two or more races. In Minnesota as a whole, 83.7% are white, 5.9% are black, 4.7% are Asian, 2.8% claim two or more races and 1% are American Indian, according to the most recent American Community Survey.
Though Spano was not present for the decision, he said he would have voted to keep the pledge. He said there were more substantive things the council could do to make the city more welcoming.
“While I’ve never been a fan of doing things just because that’s the way things have always been done, I’ve always used the last six words [of the pledge] — ‘With liberty and justice for all’ — as a reminder to me that we need to make our community more open and welcoming for all our neighbors, not just a select few,” Spano said.
St. Louis Park resident Dennis Moran said he and his neighbors were surprised by the council’s decision. Moran, who described himself as an old-school DFLer, said the council didn’t specify whether any complaints had been received about the pledge.
“It’s always been tradition here since I’ve been watching the City Council meetings back in the late ’80s. They’ve always done the Pledge of Allegiance. It’s kind of automatic, or traditional,” he said.
Patti Carlson, another resident, said her grandparents wanted to be American when they immigrated to the United States. She said she didn’t understand how the council could eliminate this part of their history, calling it “obnoxious.”
“My fear for this council is that it’s all about image and not substance,” Carlson said.
The measure was on the consent agenda, with other items to be approved without debate, before Brausen pulled it off the consent agenda, he said, to ensure transparency.
He said he didn’t recall receiving any complaints about the pledge, but added that the meaning behind the tradition had changed since 1980, when city officials began saying the pledge during the Iran hostage crisis.
“Unfortunately, some of us feel like patriotism has been so politicized that it’s almost used as a weapon against people,” he said.
Brausen said the pledge may still be used in some circumstances.
“If we have an appropriate opportunity, if we have Boy Scout color guards or others in attendance, or if it’s a special occasion, we will consider using the Pledge of Allegiance before the meetings,” he said.