Florida Mayor Kicks Man Out of Meeting for Not Standing During Pledge of Allegiance

| by Michael Allen

Winter Garden, Fla., Mayor John Rees had a man physically removed from a City Commission meeting because he refused to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance.

Mayor Rees claimed the man's refusal to stand for the pledge was disrespectful to U.S. military troops.

Mayor Rees then had Winter Garden Police Chief George A. Brennan escort the man out.

"I just said, 'Either stand or go in the hallway.' He wouldn't," Mayor Rees told the Orlando Sentinel. "It wasn't premeditated. I just reacted. It hit me. I said it. I gave him an option... Life will go on."

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Winter Garden City Manager Mike Bollhoefer identified the man as Joseph Richardson.

When Mayor Rees asked Richardson to stand for the brief prayer, Richardson responded, "I don't think I have to."

According to the Friendly Atheist, Rees replied, "I believe you have to..."

Richardson remained seated while City Commissioner Bobby Olszewski prayed, "We thank you for allowing us to be in a country where we're free to believe and think and pray."

Following the prayer, Mayor Rees told Richardson, "Now, sir, please stand while we do the pledge. You don't have to say it, but please stand. Children have to do it in school, too."

The San Francisco Chronicle notes that students cannot be forced to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance per a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

"Chief, ask him to either stand or please escort him out till we get through the pledge," Mayor Rees insisted.

"[I'm] asking you to either stand or please be escorted out [as we do] the Pledge," added Mayor Rees. "It’s just not fair to our troops and people overseas, sir."

Chief Brennan asked Richardson, "What do you want to do? Do you want to stand or leave?"

Richardson stood up and was escorted out by Chief Brennan.

However, it appears both the chief of police and the mayor may have violated the law.

"People are not required to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance or a sectarian prayer or any kind of compulsory expression just to attend a public meeting," Baylor Johnson, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, told the Orlando Sentinel.

"The mayor's ultimatum, stand or leave, is exactly the kind of thing we have a First Amendment to prevent," added Johnson.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation has emailed the mayor and the police chief asking them to explain their actions, and has promised to attend the next City Commissioners meeting where the group will refuse to stand during the prayer and pledge.

Sources: Friendly Atheist, Orlando Sentinel, San Francisco Chronicle