Reading Time: 3 minutes

Less than a week after the Fargo School Board in North Dakota voted to stop saying the Pledge of Allegiance to open their meetings, the same board members voted 8-1 during a special session tonight to reinstate the Pledge, partly due to threats they received after the previous vote.

It was a capitulation to right-wing extremists who sent hate-mail and threats to several board members. While some of the board members acknowledged that caving to their demands would set a terrible precedent for the future, they felt that this wasn’t the hill they wanted to die on and that it would be better to accede to the haters’ demands than allow this particular issue to distract from their overall mission.

Some clips from tonight’s meeting are below. There’s some NSFW language included:

YouTube video

Nyamal Dei, the Black woman who shared the profanity-laden voicemail in that clip, was the only person to vote against the reinstatement of the Pledge.

As a reminder, this school board only voted to start saying the Pledge at meetings this past April. The guy whose idea it was to say it didn’t even get re-elected to the Board this past June. The point is: It wasn’t a tradition by any means. They only considered taking it out of their agenda after some community members called out the unnecessary injection of God and the lie that we have “liberty and justice for all.”

One board member, Seth Holden, even noted last week how the Christian prayer violated the district’s commitment to inclusion and diversity, urging his colleagues to get rid of the Pledge:

“Given that the word ‘God’ in the text of the Pledge of Allegiance is capitalized,” Holden said. “The text is clearly referring to the Judeo-Christian god and therefore, it does not include any other [faiths] such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, all of which are practiced by our staff and students at FPS.

Even Atheists and Agnostics are excluded from the pledge, Holden added, saying it is a “non-inclusionary act”.

Holden went on to say that the district has a policy that school board members should be honest, and reciting a Pledge “that contains untrue statements” would force them to go against their own rules.

The board voted 7-2 last week to rescind the Pledge recitation at their meetings. (The district would still allow schools to recite the Pledge, so the decision was never going to affect students.)

But in the days that followed, the hate poured in from across the country. And as the members pointed out, it made a difference.

Board member Seth Holden said he was disappointed and embarrassed by much of the public reaction to the board’s Aug. 9 decision, stating he believed misinformation was to blame for much of the vitriol.

Calling the situation heartbreaking, Holden said there is a war being waged against public education and he is worried the board’s decision Thursday to change its stand on reciting the pledge could be viewed as a form of surrender.

Unfortunately, Holden, the hero from last week, surrendered. He voted to bring back the Pledge.

As I said last week, the decision to stop saying it was the right one. The board’s job is to discuss policies and make decisions to benefit students. Wasting time with the Pledge accomplishes neither goal. If Fargo board members want to say the Pledge of Allegiance, there’s nothing stopping them from doing it on the way to meetings or just before they begin. The Pledge is nothing more than performative patriotism. There was no good reason for the board to make it an official part of their meetings.

But now, because Christian extremists are far more concerned about keeping a religious ritual in public school board meetings than they are about the decisions that impact students, this board is stuck with the Pledge.

I don’t even necessarily blame them for capitulating. As many of them said so eloquently, they’re on the board because they want to make decisions to help students. Anything that paints the district in a negative light, or that takes the focus away from the kids they’re trying to help, is something they want to avoid. In this case, accepting the Pledge is a tradeoff they’re willing to make in order to get back to business (and hopefully take the heat off them).

My fear, though, is that these same board members are going to bow down to right-wing extremists on more serious issues, whether it concerns civil rights for LGBTQ students, access to controversial books, or whitewashed American history. What hope can anyone really have that they’ll take a strong stance on those issues—against Christian extremists—when they couldn’t even stand against the pointless Pledge?

It’s disappointing. And yet it’s not even all that surprising.

(Portions of this article were published earlier)

Avatar photo

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.