HADDAM, Conn. (AP) — A town official opposed to President Donald Trump’s policies took a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance at a tense meeting packed with more than 100 people, dividing community residents and furthering an intense debate over protests and the First Amendment.
Haddam Selectwoman Melissa Schlag faced jeers while she kneeled during the pledge on Monday and asked residents and politicians to not add words to her “silent protest.”
“I appreciate everyone coming out because this is truly town government at its best,” Schlag, a Democrat, said after the demonstration. “We need to continue the conversation or hate will continue to fester.”
Haddam resident Marine Pablo Arroyo told Schlag she should protest on her own time.
“I am not here to disrespect you as you’ve done to my flag, my country,” Arroyo said.
Vietnam veteran and town resident Bob Wallin, who supported Schlag’s right to protest, said no one has a right to tell her how and when to exercise free speech.
Before the meeting, about 100 people organized by Republican governor’s race candidate Tim Herbst and state Sen. Art Linares rallied in the town, which has about 8,000 residents, to call Schlag’s protest disrespectful. A crowd of about 75 rallied in a different part of town in support of Schlag’s protest.
Schlag said she began kneeling during the pledge earlier this month to protest Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, his hard-line stance on immigration and other policies. Trump, a Republican, has said his immigration policies and his plan to build a wall along the Mexican border are meant to keep the United States safe.