Since ninth grade, 17-year old high school student Sean Harrington has been on a mission to get the school committee of Arlington, Massachusetts, six miles northwest of Boston, to include a voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in classroom morning announcements at the start of each school day.
In a 3-3 deadlock vote on Harrington’s last day as a high school senior this month, the committee banned the leading of students in the Pledge. Committee member Leba Heigham’s rationale as one of the three no votes was: “patriotism is a very personal thing for all of us, but I do not think it is in the school committee’s best interest to mandate that any of our employees recite the Pledge.”
What role did liberal ideology and Democratic Party politics play in the local suburban Boston Pledge ban?
Heigham is listed as an associate member of the Arlington Democratic Town Committee, and has served as teachers’ union bargaining chair for seven years. Federal Election Commission records show that she contributed $500 to the National Education Association (NEA) teachers union’s political action committee.
Only NEA union members may give to the fund under law, and according to the NEA, “In the 2008 election, NEA members contributed over $8.9 million to the NEA Fund to support NEA-recommended candidates for federal office. Our efforts were instrumental in electing President Obama and in winning eight targeted Senate races and 40 of the Congressional races targeted.”
The NEA, the largest labor union in America, has never endorsed a Republican or any other non-Democrat for president, and an estimated 90 percent of its political contributions go to Democratic candidates.
Heigham is also linked to a controversial politician in Massachusetts Democratic politics. State Senator J. James Marzilli Jr. was forced to resign his seat in 2008 after being charged with attempted indecent assault and battery against a woman sitting on a park bench in Lowell, Massachusetts. During the incident he allegedly gave police a false name – apparently the name of a fellow Democratic state lawmaker – then ran from the officers.
Previously, prosecutors had dropped similar charges against Marzilli from an incident earlier that year. While under the cloud of those charges, Marzilli in October, 2008 angered many when he served as the highest-ranking U.S. official attending an international conference on global warming in Germany. The former state senate committee chairman’s trial has not yet taken place.
The first endorsement proudly displayed on Heigham’s website is from Marzilli, in which he calls her someone “who can mend the divisions in our schools and our town.” Marzilli claimed that “Leba Heigham will bring a balanced approach to the Committee … Leba has been involved in negotiating teachers’ contracts as a union member. Her depth of experience is remarkable.”
Another committee member voting to ban the Pledge of Allegiance was trial lawyer Judson Pierce, a self-described “lifelong Democrat” who worked for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1991 in his Boston office and did volunteer work for both of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaigns.
But Pierce’s most extreme association is with six-term, openly-lesbian State Senator Cheryl Jacques, who served for nearly a year in 2004 as president of the infamous Human Rights Campaign, the stated goal of which is “an America where gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are ensured equality and embraced as full members of the American family at home, at work and in every community.” Jacques departed as HRC head after its losses in numerous state referenda on homosexual marriage that year.
As a congressional candidate in 2001, Jacques was enmeshed in controversy after her lesbian lover “received a series of unusually large pay raises when she worked in Jacques’ state Senate office, records show,” the Boston Herald reported.
“Jennifer Chrisler, who now lives with Jacques and is playing a prominent role in her campaign to succeed the late U.S. Rep. Joseph Moakley, saw her pay soar 92 percent in the four and a half years she worked in Jacques’ state Senate office,” according to the Herald’s story at the time.
Pierce was Jacques’ chief legal counsel in 1994 and 1995 and did volunteer campaign work for her.
The third vote against the Pledge of Allegiance among Arlington School Committee members came from Kirsi Allison-Ampe,who worked as a medical research fellow at the National Institutes of Health during the Clinton Administration, from 1995 to 2000.
Allison-Ampe’s focus was on cancer research, and her time at NIH coincided with controversy regarding its scientists’ experiments. In January of 1999, Harriet Rabb, Clinton’s general counsel at the Department of Health and Human Services, issued a legal ruling asserting that human embryonic stem cells “are not a human embryo within the statutory definition.” That provided a legal loophole in the congressional ban that was in place against NIH federal funding for experimentation involving embryonic stem cells.
Another committee member and prominent Democrat, Jeff Thielman, was traveling and did not vote on the Pledge measure. Thielman, who has served as Arlington Democratic Town Committee vice chair, like Heigham got the disgraced Marzilli’s endorsement.
Arlington Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Bodie objects to the committee’s measure being described as a ban. “Students are welcomed, but not mandated, to join in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance as part of the morning routine in our elementary schools and the middle school,” she said Wednesday in a written statement. “In the case of the high school, it has not been the practice for many decades to have an organized recitation of the Pledge.”
Although coverage of the suburban Boston ban on the Pledge has minimized party line differences, the 17-year-old Harrington himself is actually founder and chairman of the Arlington High School Teenage Republicans. He campaigned for Sen. John McCain for president, for Sen. Scott Brown’s stunning underdog campaign, and for gubernatorial, state senate and local GOP campaigns.
Years ago, as a high school freshman, Harrington succeeded in getting the high school to install U.S. flags in classrooms. The Boston suburb prides itself as site of the bloodiest encounter of the first day of the American War of Independence, and in a speech imploring the committee to embrace the Pledge he reminded its members of the sacrifices of American soldiers and their families serving under the U.S. flag in Iraq and Vietnam. He also collected 700 signatures in favor of the Pledge to present to school officials.
He says he has been called a Nazi and fascist for pushing so hard for the Pledge, but he promises not to relent, and may even take legal action. “I’m not a person who quits and I don’t back down. It’s a very righteous cause and needs to be followed through until the end,” Harrington told Fox News this week.
After the committee vote against the Pledge this week, Heigham, Pierce and Allison-Ampe were reportedly subjected to jeers from observers that included a call to “go back to your own countries.”
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