North Dakota School Board Votes to Reinstate Pledge of Allegiance

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
August 19, 2022USshare
North Dakota School Board Votes to Reinstate Pledge of Allegiance
Students pledge allegiance to the flag in a school in a file photo. (William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

The school board in North Dakota’s largest city has reinstated the pledge of allegiance after harsh backlash to the decision to nix the pledge.

Fargo Board of Education members voted 8–1 on Aug. 18 to recite the pledge at meetings, about a week after a 7–2 vote to stop reciting it.

Criticism of the move led to the new vote, members said, including a racist voicemail left for Nyamal Dei, a refugee from Sudan.

The pressure from the public largely came from outside of Fargo, according to Greg Clark, a member who analyzed emails that were sent.

Clark said he was voting to resume recitation of the pledge so that the issue wouldn’t serve as a distraction, but apologized to Fargo residents.

“I hope you’ll forgive me because I truly believe it is in the best interest of our schools to do so,” Clark said. “The disruptions and the threats must end so that we can have a successful start to our school year.”

Melissa Burkland, another member, said she’d heard from residents that the pledge “is honoring a democracy that makes a strong education, a strong public education system possible,” and had decided the earlier vote was a bad move.

“To me, reflective leadership is the ability to acknowledge the shortcomings of your original decision, compromise when necessary, particularly on a non-substantive decision such as this one, and lay to rest a controversy so we can move forward,” she said.

Dei was the only member to vote no.

“If we go back on our decision now, we will be bending to hate,” she said.

Original Decision

The board started reciting the pledge in April, but by August had decided to stop.

Seth Holden, a board member, took issue with the words “under God.”

“Given that the word ‘God’ in the text of the Pledge of Allegiance is capitalized, the text is clearly referring to the Judeo-Christian god and therefore, it does not include any other faiths such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, all of which are practiced … among our staff and students,” he said.

Robin Nelson, another member, voted against the motion.

“We need to focus on our kids and our education. I think this discussion, respectfully, is a distraction,” she said. “Please give me the opportunity to stand up at the beginning of the meetings and say the Pledge of Allegiance. And I would respectfully ask that you just don’t participate, but don’t deny me that right.”

Member Jim Johnson said Thursday that he thinks the original vote was appropriate, but likened the new action to conceding a battle but winning in the end.

“The ultimate win for me as a school board member is to protect this district and its students every day, every hour, every minute,” he said. “And to that extent, I will be voting for [the] motion as well, even though philosophically, I disagree with it.”

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