Columns

NY Quaker Senate Candidate Refuses to Recite Pledge of Allegiance

(Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock.com)

from his legislative seat in Albany on the need to clean up state politics.

“Albany’s culture of corruption has forced our communities to struggle needlessly,” Niccoli said to a crowd of about 50 people when she announced her campaign March 19. “Politicians who are more interested in serving their wallets than their constituents are killing local economies and devastating schools.”

In the past decade, more than 30 politicians in Albany have either been convicted, sanctioned, or accused of some kind of wrongdoing.

Most recently, former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and his son Adam Skelos were convicted of federal corruption, extortion, and bribery charges.

Any pulp fiction writer from Dashiell Hammett to Raymond Chandler could use this for a “ripped from the headlines” novel of a political scandal that might even include a murderous plot line –  the story of a 38-year-old married mother of one who takes on the corrupt establishment.

But Niccoli, who is also the director of the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, has been threatened with death not because of her vow to get crooked politicians out of Albany; rather, she faced the wrath of Facebook for refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Two members of the Palatine Town Board, Democrat Hank Vandenburgh and Republican Neil Yerdon, are taking what they believed to be a death threat posted on Facebook so seriously that they have called for a state police investigation of “specific threats against Sara’s life.”

Yerdon and Vandenburgh also pointed to “hateful comments, including death threats and violent imagery,” in their letter that was addressed to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and State Police Superintendent George Beach.

“Due to the heightened political rhetoric and charged atmosphere, these threats must be taken seriously and should be investigated by the appropriate authorities,” Yerdon and Vandenburgh also wrote. “We have seen too many tragedies involving elected officials and candidates for office to ignore these very real and explicit threats made against Ms. Niccoli.”

The Facebook post that Yerdon and Vandenbergh cited was on a page called “The REAL Sara Niccoli,” which has since been removed from Facebook.

“Tell Sara Niccoli to honor America!” the June 29 posted stated, as it deemed her refusal to stand for the Pledge “unacceptable.”

Niccoli, who said her decision not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance is based on her religious beliefs as a Quaker, called the Facebook page “incredibly disturbing.”

Niccoli told News-10 TV that despite the death threats made against her because of the Facebook post, she will not back down.

“Quakers generally affirm an oath, so I affirm the Pledge of Allegiance, but I do not recite it,” Niccoli said. “I do believe everyone’s religious beliefs are under attack.”

Yerdon and Vandenburgh want the New York State Police to find out who created the Facebook page.

Niccoli thinks she knows who was behind it.

“Attacking my faith on Independence Day was a choice my opponent and his backers made. My family came here in 1712 to escape religious persecution. 300 years later the freedoms that our nation was founded on are truly at risk,” she tweeted to her followers. “Stand up with me and fight back.”

The controversy inspired a rally by the group Members of Clergy at the New York Capitol to show their support for Niccoli.

“A group of concerned clergy members and activists today demanded that State Senator George Amedore immediately denounce attacks that have been made against his opponent, and her religious observances,” Members of Clergy said in a statement.

“Sara Niccoli, a Quaker (a denomination of Protestant Christianity), stands respectfully for the Pledge of Allegiance, but does not recite the pledge in line with her religious practices. Recently, a shadowy attack group with ties to the Amedore campaign has been leveling attacks on religious freedom and has served as a forum for extremist intolerance and discrimination.”

Sen. George Amedore told the Times Union that his people didn’t do it. Nor could the newspaper’s investigation find an “explicit link” to New York Senate Republicans’ statewide campaign efforts.

“If she chooses not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance based on her religious belief, that’s her choice,” Amedore said. “Just like it’s my choice to try to be a man of faith and a man of conviction, to believe in God and that Jesus is my Lord and savior.”

The story left Times Union columnist Chris Churchill wondering, “Were people this dumb before Facebook, or is it making us worse?”