Hemant Mehta donated $3,000 to the Morton Grove Park District in response to the American Legion withdrawing funds in protest of park board member Dan Ashta refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance. The donation was refused in spite of Mehta polling for acceptance before sending the check.
In an email to Mehta, Park District Executive Director Tracey Anderson said the Park District board “has no intention of becoming embroiled in a First Amendment dispute. The email also says Park District officials do not want to appear “sympathetic to,” or show a perceived position for or against, “any particular political or religious cause.”
The American Legion got upset that Ashta, a constitutional lawyer, wouldn’t at least stand out of respect in an odd sort of double-speak–we fought for your right to refuse but we will not tolerate your right.
“On behalf of our post, it is with some regret that we fully respect the right of individuals to not stand during the pledge of allegiance,” Lampert said. “All veterans have been willing to lose their lives for that right, and many have. With that being said, while we support that right, we do not accept it.”
Of course veterans didn’t litigate for free speech, nor did they litigate to include the pledge back in 1954 but they did fight for the country. Ashta doesn’t consider the pledge a mandatory duty.
“This section of the agenda says Pledge of Allegiance, and I feel like we’re compelling people to speak,” Ashta explained. “So you either stand up and say it or you don’t, but either way you’re making a statement. If you come to the meeting, you don’t have a choice but to make a statement.”
“I’m not entirely sure it’s accurate to say this is a personal choice, but more of a duty. I have an obligation as an elected official to uphold the constitution,” he continued. “I have a sincere, serious relationship with the law. I study law and constitutional law is of particular interest to me. I think the Constitution is what makes this country great and worth making sacrifices for. Countries with weak constitutions usually don’t last.”
“It really saddens me when I hear people say that they think what I’m doing is disrespectful… I do appreciate the sacrifices people have made so that I can be here at this meeting. I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. I have no objections to people who do stand for the pledge.”
Ashta doesn’t want the pledge removed, nor has he claimed any religious alliance, he just doesn’t want to stand and say it. The Legion pulled the Easter egg hunt funding, the Halloween funding, the Fourth of July support, and the Party in the Park support. They took their money and went home simply because some guy doesn’t want to stand and say the pledge, a rather new US propoganda originally meant for school children to bolster up patriotism after two world wars and then Korea. The Legion insists it will wait all the way to 2019 when Ashta’s term is up if they have to, or he stands. Mehta makes it clear why he’s sending the money.
Anderson said Mehta’s check included a note about the donation’s purpose being for Ashta’s “courageous protest” and from “atheists everywhere.” She said she believed Mehta’s donation was simply to make up for the loss of the veterans group’s funding. But she said that after discussing the donation with park board members, the Park District determined that Mehta’s donation was not for general programming purposes and thus should be returned.
They refused the money because it had political weight. The Legion was donating the money for politics as well or they would have insisted the donations be anonymous. The board is clearly waiting it out and seeing whether Ashta will stand or quit. Conservative news supports the Legion and sees Ashta as unpatriotic.
Others, including local resident Coursey Winkler, whose mother serves on the park board, are calling for Ashta’s resignation. “He needs to put his pride aside. He is now hurting the park and village, and as an elected official he is the voice of the people,” Winkler told the Morton Grove Champion. ”At this time, I do not believe he is speaking for the people. If he is hurting the park he should resign.”
“It’s not like Mr. Ashta is saying, ‘I’m an atheist and I oppose the under God portion of the pledge,’” Mehta said. “I would say that though, and he’s showing respect for my right to do it even though he might not agree with me.”
Along the same line, Mehta said Ashta is admirable for not challenging people who do stand for the pledge.
“This guy is not unpatriotic; he’s quite the opposite,” Mehta said. “He is an elected official chosen by citizens in his community, and I doubt that every single person in Morton Grove is able-bodied, Christian and completely satisfied with their government. He’s reminding everyone that government is open to all. That’s about as patriotic as it gets.”
Having received half hate mail and living in a suburb Ashta has some interesting times ahead. Oddly enough his board blurb says he’s a team practitioner which usually means bullshit compromisor which is not what he’s doing. At the Nov 21 board meeting he was two minutes late, missing the pledge and a quarter of the eight-minute meeting. Sound alike everyone is just weathering the storm for awhile. Mehta has confirmed that he will raise money every year until Ashta can sit or his term is up.
Jim Newman, bright and well