On March 24, I began getting nasty phone calls and hate emails — too many to count — from people across the country who had seen a short clip on YouTube of two Hampden town councilors not participating in the Pledge of Allegiance.
I am one of those Hampden town councilors. Here, I will attempt to tell the rest of the story.
The video clips are the work of certain residents belonging to the Hampden Association of Landowners, or HALO, which recently began recording all council meetings. Ironically, in a BDN article on March 20 about Hampden’s craziness, HALO’s president said she did not know how the recordings would be used. Now we know: against dedicated, loyal town councilors, whom HALO cannot control.
I have served on the Hampden council almost five years and have almost 30 years of Army military service, both on active duty and in the Army Reserves. My family’s military service goes back to World War I, in which my grandfather served. My father served in World War II, I served during Vietnam and the Cold War, and my son, a West Point graduate, served in Iraq. The other councilor, Thomas Brann, has served more than 10 years on the council and is also a Vietnam-era veteran. Obviously, our refusal to do the Pledge of Allegiance at the town meeting has nothing to do with a lack of patriotism.
It revolves around how the Pledge of Allegiance was introduced to the Town Council and the individuals who introduced it. It revolves around our local state representative, Brian Duprey, who represents Hampden, Newburgh and Dixmont in Augusta. His wife, Councilor Carol Duprey, was voted in as mayor in January at the first council meeting of 2014. One of her first acts — at her husband’s insistence — was to get the Pledge of Allegiance permanently added to the council’s agenda. She then notified us that she wanted the national anthem sung. Many of her motions are dedicated to the soldiers in harm’s way and to the veterans on the monument outside the town office.
So what’s next? Holding hands and saying the Lord’s Prayer, since Rep. Duprey is apparently also a pastor?
It is disgusting to both Brann and me how our flag is being used as a political tool and how it is being abused by being improperly displayed. I have numerous times had to correct the council on the proper method of display. There have even been members of HALO, standing in front of our flag with it improperly displayed, chastising Brann and me for not honoring our flag by saying the Pledge of Allegiance. They were the ones, in my opinion, dishonoring our flag.
The Dupreys obviously have forgotten that the Town Council was elected to do town’s business for its residents, not to be subjected to an agenda by the Dupreys and HALO, using the flag and patriotism as a “big stick” against both Brann and me because we won’t bend to their will.
The Town Council is supposed to be an apolitical, unbiased body working in the best interest of the residents of Hampden.
Our flag is a symbol of our freedom, a statement of our constitutional rights as U.S. citizens. We, as citizens, have the right to free expression as declared in the First Amendment of our Constitution. The Dupreys seem to have forgotten that.
It seems certain members of HALO posted the video clips of our town council meetings to YouTube in an attempt to denigrate both Brann’s and my reputations as loyal, patriotic citizens, which we do not have to prove.
The postings also appear to be a diversionary tactic to direct attention away from HALO and its involvement in a false accusation against me that I was involved in threatening and harassing a NESCOM videographer from Husson University. Rep. Duprey conveyed the accusation that a male town councilor threatened the videographer to the Hampden town manager, and a subsequent phone call was made to me.
Brann and I have absolutely no reservations about doing the Pledge of Allegiance. We have both done it at school and at numerous military functions. Neither of us personally feels that the Town Council meeting is a proper place to do it, and we will not bend to the bullying tactics to which we are being subjected by both HALO and the Dupreys.
One resident who emailed me said the following: “I believe the dissenting councilors have some strong points and should be applauded for standing up for their beliefs in what must be a sea of angry opposition. These two gentlemen are the true patriots here, fighting for their rights rather than taking the easy way out by jumping on the bandwagon, despite the grief it’s sure to bring them.”
Both Brann and I agree that we must get back to the town’s business, which we were elected to conduct. If the Dupreys and HALO want to tout their patriotism, they should do it someplace else, not in Town Council chambers.
Retired Army Maj. William Shakespeare serves on the Hampden Town Council.