ORLANDO, Florida — Winter Garden Mayor John Rees ordered a man to leave the city commission meeting Thursday night because he refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
“I just said, ‘Either stand or go in the hallway.’ He wouldn’t,” said Rees, 65, who was elected to a third, three-year term in March. “It wasn’t premeditated. I just reacted. It hit me. I said it. I gave him an option. … Life will go on.”
Rees said he considered the man’s refusal to stand for the invocation — a ceremonial prayer that opens the city’s public meetings — and the Pledge of Allegiance to be disrespectful. “I did not make him stand for the prayer,” Rees said. “But the Pledge? Even school kids stand. So I told him, ‘You have two choices: You can stand or go outside.’ ”
Police Chief George A. Brennan then approached the man and asked, “What are you going to do?”
The man then got up and left. He was not arrested.
Rees said he did not know the man.
Consisting of 31 words, the 122-year-old pledge has been the subject of debate and legal battles for years, including a notable one in Florida that led a federal appeals court to rule that it was unconstitutional to force students to recite — or even stand “at attention” — for the pledge.
The Florida case involved an 11th-grader at a school in Palm Beach County whose parents sued in 2005 after the teen was punished and ridiculed by his teacher for refusing to stand while his classmates recited the pledge.