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State

Illinois vets group halts donations after official refuses to stand for Pledge

CHICAGO (MCT) — A parks official says he's standing up for the U.S. Constitution by sitting down during the Pledge of Allegiance.

But Morton Grove Park District Commissioner Dan Ashta's symbolic actions have spurred an ideological tug of war with a local veterans group, which recently halted cash donations to the Park District until its entire board stands for the pledge at park board meetings.

"Every veteran has taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and has been willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice for all of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans," said Joseph Lampert, 47, commander of American Legion Post 134. "Nowhere did we say that he has to recite the pledge or put his hand over his heart. We would just like to see him stand out of respect."

Ashta, an attorney who focuses on constitutional law, said he, too, is defending the Constitution with his refusal to stand during the pledge.

"We have an item on the agenda that says 'Pledge of Allegiance,'" Ashta said. "The only choice you have is to utter a statement. ... You don't have a choice to remain silent."

Standing, but not saying the pledge, is still an act of speech, Ashta said. And by having the pledge on the agenda, the park board is potentially infringing upon the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution, he asserted.

After discussing the issue for several months, Post 134 members agreed to withdraw all financial and volunteer support for park programs "until such time that everybody stands for the pledge," Lampert said.

The decision was made "with a heavy heart, and it was unfortunate that it came out the way it did," he said.

The group contributed $2,600, plus volunteer hours, to four park events, said Joseph Hedrick, post public liaison.

That time and money will likely be shifted to other local programs, Hedrick said, unless Ashta changes his stance.

But Ashta, who was elected in April, contends he would be violating his oaths as an attorney and a parks commissioner if he stood for the pledge.

"I feel like I'd be disrespecting America, the Constitution, the rule of law — everything people have sacrificed to live in a free society," he said.

As neither side seems willing to budge, parks officials said they'd look for other sponsors so that programs the post supported will continue uninterrupted.

(c)2013 Chicago Tribune
Distributed by MCT Information Services

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