HAMPDEN, Maine — For the first time since the Pledge of Allegiance was added to the start of Town Council meetings, two members who have been abstaining stood up and recited it, alongside their five counterparts.
Councilors Thomas Brann and William Shakespeare decided to sit out the pledge because they felt, in part, that the manner in which it was adopted was in violation of council procedures.
Brann also told media outlets that he objected to Mayor Carol Duprey’s having dedicated the pledge to those serving in harm’s way, which he took to mean only those serving in combat situations.
Shakespeare more recently said in a Bangor Daily News OpEd piece that he and Brann — both of whom are veterans — also objected to the people who introduced the concept, namely Duprey and her husband, Rep. Brian Duprey.
The flap over the pledge is among several issues that have divided the council in recent months.
The local issue went national last month, when video clips of the two men sitting during the pledge began circulating on YouTube, FaceBook and other social media platforms.
Besides angry emails and phone calls, the two were the subject of nearly 50 comments — all but about 10 of them vilifying Shakespeare and Brann — sent to the council through the town website’s feedback mechanism.
Noting that she usually doesn’t say anything before turning an agenda item over to the councilor who requested it be addressed, Mayor Duprey said the pledge controversy would be an exception:
“It’s been a tough week, this past week, a tough few weeks, reading about how horrible I am,” she said, pausing occasionally to regain her composure.
“I served 10 years in the Navy and I was taught that military leaders do not shift blame, they accept responsibility,” she said, apologizing to anyone who had been offended by remarks she has made about the matter.
“I consider all troops to be in harm’s way, not only those serving in combat,” she said. “As we saw in Fort Hood, you don’t have to be in a combat zone to be in harm’s way. I also consider those who are not in uniform anymore to be in harm’s way. Twenty-two veterans each day commit suicide in America. Mentally, they’re still in harm’s way.
“This week, I sat down and wrote a 10-page speech documenting all the lies told about me in the last three weeks. I was going to come here and try to embarrass people and [air complaints about] those personal attacks against my family. But my husband and I prayed about it and these two passages from Scripture came to mind that changed my heart from anger to compassion,” she said.
The first, she said, was Luke 6:27-28: “But I tell you who hear me, love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
The other was Romans 12:17-18: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
“So I won’t turn this political. It’s not who I am, even though it might make me feel better. I’m a patriot. My country only comes second to my love of God and my family.”
Duprey said neither she nor any other council members criticized Brann and Shakespeare for “exercising their right to sit down during the pledge. … We all respect their decision and kept the town moving forward.” Until the YouTube videos surfaced, she said, the two councilors’ position on the pledge essentially was a “nonissue.”
“I was horrified at some of the comments that were written about my colleagues, my fellow veterans, Councilors Brann and Shakespeare. No one deserves to be treated like that in America, she said, adding, “I’m ready to move forward and leave all of this behind us. We have a tough budget to get ready for and I need councilors to bring their ‘A’ game to each meeting.”
Also during the meeting, Shakespeare discussed why he and Brann decided to recite the pledge.
“There has been a lot of controversy over saying the Pledge of Allegiance, both in this country, and of late, in our own town,” he said. “I always believed we, as citizens of this great country, had constitutional rights under the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights in the [U.S.] Constitution to freedom of speech.
“I’m beginning to question whether or not we really do,” he said. “Whether or not we have the right to exercise our right to choose what we do and how we do it.
“I’m in hopes that tonight will be the last time this subject about the Pledge of Allegiance will have to be discussed. That’s my hope, that’s what I would like to see happen,” he said.
“We decided to do it for these reasons. First, to show that we have absolutely no reservation about doing the pledge and that we are both very patriotic. I’m in hopes that our mayor will stop making these meetings a ‘patriotic’ event,” he said.
“Second, to try to get this controversy behind us and move on to doing town business, that which we were elected to do,” he said.
Shakespeare said he believes some members of the Hampden Association of Landowners, or HALO, a local group critical of the way the town handles property rights matters, are behind the viral posts that led to the backlash.
“We did not take any of them personally because we realize their negative response was from seeing one-sided, edited excerpts of town [council] meetings … placed on YouTube for one reason, and one reason only. To demean both Tom and myself in an effort to turn the the public’s opinion against both of us.”
This story was amended on April 8 to correct a reference to councilor William Shakespeare who was misidentified.