Official's Refusal to Recite Pledge of Allegiance Irks Conservatives

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

( - There have been rumblings for years about school children and others being unwilling to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

But when members of the conservative African-American group Project 21 learned last month of an elected official's refusal to rise and say the Pledge with her colleagues, they were appalled.

Tennessee state Rep. Henri Brooks' actions prompted the group to issue a statement this week denouncing "American-hating blacks" who won't honor the flag because they say it signifies slavery and racial oppression.

"Anyone elected to represent the citizens of a state who refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance is not fit to serve, and must be removed from office without hesitation," Project 21 member Rev. Jesse Peterson said in a statement.

Project 21's response came after Brooks told the Washington Times last month: "This flag represents the former colonies that enslaved our ancestors. It's not one nation under God and liberty and justice for all."

As America celebrates its 225th birthday Wednesday, Project 21 believes slavery's stigma has faded and many African-Americans, including Secretary of State Colin Powell and basketball great Michael Jordan, have been elevated to prominent roles.

It's time, members of Project 21 say, to respect the nation's opportunities for blacks and to recite the Pledge.

"While (America) was founded with slavery in place, we have gone a long ways since then," said David Almasi, director of the Washington-based non-profit group. "And we've gone a long ways since the 1960s."

But the American Civil Liberties Union defends Brooks' refusal as constitutionally protected expression.

"From my perspective, African-Americans -- like all Americans and any individuals who favor freedom -- should have and do have the overriding right to say those things that others might consider unpopular," said Johnny Barnes, the ACLU's executive director for the National Capital Area.