FARGO, N.D. -- The school board in North Dakota's largest city will reconsider its decision to stop reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at each of its meetings, after the move drew widespread criticism and threats of retaliation from some conservative state lawmakers.
Fargo Board of Education President Dr. Tracie Newman told board members in a memo that she believes the pledge should be reinstated because the onslaught of “negative local and national feedback" could cost time and resources ahead of the new school year. She called a special meeting for Thursday.
The Fargo board voted 7-2 last week to nix a previous board edict from April to recite the pledge before each meeting. The board includes four newcomers from the June election. In deciding against reciting the pledge, the board said the move didn't align with the district’s diversity and inclusion code, largely because it says “under God” in one phrase.
Robin Nelson, one of two board members to vote against dropping the pledge, said no one complained after the panel started reciting the patriotic vow. But since last week’s vote the board has received “hundreds and hundreds of local and national emails and phone calls,” she said. She has heard personally from state lawmakers who have threatened to get even.
“I knew it would be controversial. I knew the repercussions were quite predictable,” Nelson said.
Republican Gov. Doug Burgum on Monday proposed a bill meant to “guarantee that the opportunity exists to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, as other states have done.” State Rep. Pat Heinert, one of three Republicans working with Burgum, wants to require all local boards and commission to recite the pledge.
“It provides a good optic for civics in North Dakota,” said Heinert, a retired county sheriff. “We require people who come into our country to pass a civics test and that’s part of it. Elected government boards should be demonstrating that we believe in our own country. We believe in our Pledge of Allegiance.”
The foray into local politics by state Republicans has drawn criticism from Democrats. Rep. Josh Boschee, of Fargo, the House minority leader, called warnings to cut programs or funding “the worst form of politics” and said Burgum’s proposal is inappropriate and not needed.
"I have no reason to believe those threats are not real because I’ve heard threats like that in the halls of the legislature and in one-on-one conversations with my legislative colleagues,” Boschee said. He said boards that oversee schools, cities and counties constantly fear retaliation from the GOP-controlled Legislative Assembly "through the forms of public policy and funding threats.”
Another Fargo lawmaker, Republican Rep. Jim Kasper, said he's happy the board is taking a second look.
“The makeup of the school board in the last election brought in five liberal-thinking members from what I recall," Kasper said. "And so therefore, liberals have a different agenda than moderate or conservative people, whether they’re Democrat or Republican.”
School board and City Council members in Fargo run on a nonpartisan ballot, which does not reveal party affiliation.