Man refuses to stand for Pledge of Allegiance; forcibly removed from public meeting

A Florida mayor ordered his town’s police chief to escort a resident from a City Commission meeting last week because the man refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the incident took place Thursday in Winter Garden, just west of Orlando, when a man identified as 51-year-old Joseph Richardson refused to stand for a prayer to begin the meeting, then the pledge that followed.

“I just said, ‘Either stand or go in the hallway.’ He wouldn’t,” Mayor John Rees told the Sentinel. “It wasn’t premeditated. I just reacted. It hit me. I said it. I gave him an option. … Life will go on.”

In a video of the incident taken by Richardson, city commissioners are seen standing for a prayer – which included thanks to God “for allowing us to be in a country where we have freedom to believe and think and pray.” At the start of the pledge, Richardson is told to rise and refuses.

“I don’t think I have to,” Richardson responded.

That’s when Rees had the town’s police chief take Richardson from the room. He was not arrested, the Sentinel reported.

Check out the video here, via The Blaze.

Richardson, who could not be reached the Sentinel last week, is a known activist for atheist causes in Central Florida. An active member of the Florida Freethought Committee, dedicated to keeping religion out of government, he tangled with Brevard County commissioners earlier in August over their refusal to allow a Freethought Committee member to deliver an invocation to open their meetings.

According to The Blaze, he’s also a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the “perpetually affronted” Wisconsin-based group that finds endless ways of making a pest of itself – (like criticizing student athletes for kneeling on the field in prayer for an injured teammate)  — in the name of protecting the First Amendment.

The foundation is threatening to turn out at the next Winter Park Commission meeting to make its point even clearer, according to the Blaze.

Now, here’s the thing.

The Freedom From Religion folks might really be good faith gadflies, like Socrates in Athens, pricking social norms to stir thought and protect sacred freedoms we all should hold dear.

Or they might be socially stunted, preening intellectuals who just like attracting attention to themselves by bragging about how they read all 85 Federalist Papers before they were 10 and how much they hate paper money.

Regardless, they really do have a right not to stand for the pledge, they have a right to be pests, and no mayor, governor or president in the United States has the right to order an armed agent of the state to remove them from a public meeting because they won’t obey orders.

The FFR people are a pain, but even stopped clocks are right sometimes. And when they’re right, they’re right.


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