Officials at the Mullis Community Senior Center on San Juan Island in Washington state recently banned members from saying their traditional prayer and Pledge of Allegiance before lunch, forcing them to huddle in the corner around their own flag to pay tribute to American freedom.
But a subsequent crackdown to enforce the ban has reportedly resulted in members of the local American Legion arrested for trespassing with American flags, as well as reports of senior center staff roughing up elderly members who insist on reciting the pledge.
Daven Holzer, commander of the American Legion Post 163, told KIRO his organization was contacted by a group of seniors who wanted help putting on the pledge after officials ended the tradition. Legion members organized the optional pledge for folks who wanted to participate, he said, but it’s only escalated tensions at the taxpayer funded facility.
“They wrote a new rule into their house rules stating that nobody could do this without the first prior coordination through them, so they took it upon themselves simply as their board and rewrote the rules for the senior center,” Holzer explained.
Legion members held an optional pledge that was “received greatly by the members” but it apparently didn’t sit well with the director of the senior center, who allegedly compared the Pledge of Allegiance to a Nazi salute.
“She didn’t understand how it was right that I should come storming and barging in there, dictating how they’re doing things,” Hozler told KIRO.
Hozler said he questioned how the center justified restricting members’ constitutional rights and was shocked by the response.
“You think that the people of Nazi Germany enjoyed saying, ‘Heil Hitler?’” was reportedly the reply.
“My response to her, besides a dumbfounded look, was, ‘They didn’t have a choice. In this country you do,’” he said. “’And you’re taking away everyone’s choice and right of saying the Pledge of Allegiance.”
Richard Swenson, a member of the center, explained in a letter to the San Juan Journal that the ban impacts a lot of seniors who take the daily prayer and pledge seriously, and implored the center to reconsider the ban.
“On June 4, we submitted 200 petition signatures of people who want the Pledge back as part of our senior lunch program,” Swenson wrote.
“The Operations Committee needs to look in the faces of the gray hairs and see how 30 seconds can bring so much unity and joy,” he wrote. “Not allowing the Pledge is like spitting in the face of all of their loved ones.”
Despite the pleas, American Legion Sergeant-at-Arms Shannon Plummer told KIRO the center has called the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office on Legion members helping to facilitate the banned pledge, and had them arrested for trespassing.
“It’s amazing the amount of people who enjoy the liberties of this country, but they don’t want to have to go ahead and produce any of the work that those liberties entitle you to,” Plummer said.
Center officials ignored a request for comment on the situation from KIRO, and haven’t appeared to have addressed the controversy on its Facebook page.
Several folks have visited the page, however, and typed out the Pledge of Allegiance in all caps or posted pictures of the American flag in the comments of posts about nature photos and the weather.
Others trolled announcements about the lunch menu.
“LUNCH MENU: Wednesday, June 12 – Turkey Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes, Roast Carrots, and Apricots,” the Center posted.
To which Adrienne Bloch Bennett responded with an American flag emoji, followed by “not on the menu.”