- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 10, 2002

Spectators turned out yesterday to see if the Arlington County Board would alter its agenda to include the Pledge of Allegiance during an official meeting.
They didn't, but one resident found a way to force the issue.
Community activist John Antonelli stood up during public comments, put his right hand over his heart and began, "I pledge allegiance … "
With television cameras rolling, board members Chris Zimmerman, Charles Monroe, Paul Ferguson, Barbara Favola and Jay Fisette and about 40 others in the room stood and recited the oath with Mr. Antonelli.
But as the board responded to public concerns over park renovations and emergency response capabilities, making the pledge part of Arlington's official proceedings as other counties do was not mentioned.
"They're beginning to make themselves look like a laughingstock," said Mr. Antonelli, who also led board members in the pledge at a Feb. 23 board meeting. "It's right. It's timely. I just don't see why they don't do it."
Fairfax and Prince George's counties open legislative sessions with the Pledge of Allegiance. Montgomery County opens with an invocation, and the D.C. Council observes a moment of silence. The Arlington Board does nothing special, except when events warrant it.
Mr. Zimmerman, the board chairman, began the meeting yesterday with a lengthy moment of silence honoring in advance six-month remembrance of the September 11 terrorist attacks. He was dressed in a dark blue jacket and red and white striped tie.
Arlington resident James Fortner was one of about a dozen people who attended the meeting specifically to see how the board would handle what's become a thorny subject. He said the board's "run-and-hide mentality" was "upsetting from a taxpayer's standpoint."
"I think the biggest thing that bothers me is that the county board won't address the issue," he said.
Board spokesman Dick Bridges declined to discuss the pledge debate, which first began at a November board meeting when county Taxpayers Association President Tim Wise made the offhand remark that the board should adopt the pledge before meetings as the county School Board does.
The request resonated with Coast Guard veteran Robert Molleur, who raised the issue at the board's December meeting. When Mr. Molleur got no response from the Board, he signed up to speak at the January meeting and used his allotted two minutes to recite the pledge.
But at the board's Feb. 23 meeting after Mr. Antonelli took up the cause and spoke the pledge Mr. Monroe read a prepared statement, in which he objected to the notion that not saying the pledge at meetings was somehow unpatriotic.
"Because of the reverence I hold for the pledge, I take offense when some seek to pressure me into, or attempt to dictate, the manner of my personal expressions of loyalty," he said.
Mr. Zimmerman said during the previous meeting that the pledge was being used not to unite but to divide the community and blamed Republican activists for taking a "cheap shot" at the all-Democrat board.
County resident James Hurysz spoke out yesterday against the drive to institute the pledge, which he referred to as the "Republican Party oath."
"What's next after the Pledge of Allegiance?" he asked, suggesting that proposals for prayers might follow.
Mr. Antonelli said just because county Republicans have pushed for the pledge doesn't mean it's a political issue. He said he had never met Mr. Molleur, the former Coast Guardsman, before Mr. Molleur stood and recited the pledge in January.
"I think they just think it might fade away," said Mr. Molleur, who also attended the meeting yesterday. "My whole thing is they're being intolerant. You can opt out if you don't want to say it."
And if the board decides not to start its meetings with the pledge?
"Then, we will," Mr. Antonelli said. "That's not a problem."


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