Am. Legion members say senior center compares Pledge of Allegiance with Nazism
UPDATE: In a statement six days after the article below originally published, the Mullis Community Senior Center stated that it removed the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer before lunch “in an effort to be welcoming to all seniors, including younger seniors.” The senior center said that it added more patriotic occasions to its calendar to make up for this, and is restoring the flag at the front of the building thanks to a donor.
“The Mullis Senior Center is simply adjusting to the changing times,” the statement read. “We feel we cannot let the habits of our past be the enemy of our future.”
The senior center added that staff called police three times after certain veterans kept coming in to say the pledge without staying for lunch despite numerous verbal warnings that they were disrupting the meal.
Drama is unfolding faster than a flag at the Mullis Community Senior Center in Friday Harbor due to a new restriction on saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
Recently, the Mullis Community Senior Center Board of Directors decided — without speaking to center members, allegedly — to remove the traditional prayer and Pledge of Allegiance before lunch, other than on a few specific days when the pledge would still be allowed. The senior center is funded by San Juan County.
“They wrote a new rule into their house rules stating that nobody could do this without the first prior coordination through them, so they took it upon themselves simply as their board and rewrote the rules for the senior center,” American Legion Post 163 Commander Daven Holzer explained.
A group of seniors decided to start saying the pledge on their own about 15 minutes before the meal. They did not make anyone join them who did not wish to, but wanted to still take the chance to salute the symbol of the nation.
“They thought the situation had resolved itself, but then [the senior center] started telling them they were no longer allowed to do it beforehand anyway,” Holzer said.
At this point, concerned seniors approached Holzer at the Friday Harbor American Legion post. He and his colleagues at the American Legion joined the seniors at the center, leading the Pledge of Allegiance in the corner for those who wanted to say it.
“We were received greatly by the members who were there,” Holzer said.
The next day, however, Holzer said that he received a less-than-appreciative phone call from the director of the senior center.
“She just didn’t understand how it was right that I should come storming and barging in there, dictating how they’re doing things,” he said.
In the meantime, the flag no longer stands in the main gathering space of the center. Holzer said that American Legion members have been threatened, harassed, and kicked out of the building.
When Holzer confronted senior center staff asking how it could restrict people’s constitutional rights, he said that the response was, “You think that the people of Nazi Germany enjoyed saying, ‘Heil Hitler?'”
“My response to her, besides a dumbfounded look, was, ‘They didn’t have a choice. In this country you do,'” he recalled. “‘And you’re taking away everyone’s choice and right of saying the Pledge of Allegiance.”
Law enforcement has been pulled into the conflict. The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office escorted a veteran out of the building for trespass after he brought in a flag and said the Pledge of Allegiance. The sheriff’s office has received numerous other calls under similar circumstances reported as trespass from the senior center.
Additionally, Holzer and American Legion Post 163 Sergeant-at-Arms Shannon Plummer said, a senior center staff member allegedly assaulted a senior saying the pledge.
While the American Legion’s motto is, “For God and country,” Holzer and Plummer understood the church and state argument for removing the prayer from a government-funded senior center.
What they did not understand was how citizens could be forbidden from reciting words that mean a great deal to them. Just as it would be unconstitutional to force someone to say the pledge, they said, it is equally unconstitutional to force them not to.
“It’s amazing the amount of people who enjoy the liberties of this country, but they don’t want to have to go ahead and produce any of the work that those liberties entitle you to,” Plummer said.
The Mullis Community Senior Center had not yet responded to requests for comment at press time. The story will be updated if and when a response is received.