In a town with a population of 8,260, a debate between the issue of free speech and the American flag has broken out over Haddam Selectwoman Melissa Schlag kneeling for the Pledge of Allegiance.

On July 16, while Trump met Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Helsinki summit, Schlag decided to kneel at the Haddam Board of Selectmen meeting taking place that night. According to Schlag, watching Trump take Putin’s side, over all of the American intelligence agencies, was the “last straw.”

“For over a decade as an open government advocate, activist, and public official, I have fought hard for the rights of American citizens,” explained Schlag via email. “Watching the leader of the greatest country on Earth denigrate the United States like that brought me to my knees.”

Schlag knew she was going to receive backlash for her actions, but she would not let that deter her from sticking to her beliefs.  She received countless vulgar, sexually abusive and explicit letters, emails, calls, and private messages. However, Schlag refused to “let those people dictate what others do in their own lives.”

Before kneeling, Schlag talked to many Black Lives Matter leaders and activists, who warned her to be careful about appropriating kneeling for political reasons. She explained that she had many reasons for kneeling; she wasn’t doing it for only political reasons.

“You could call the summit the last straw,” said Schlag. “It wasn’t the only reason I knelt, but it’s what brought me to my knees because it was too overwhelming to let go, and I feel our country is on a fast decline; the summit made it worse. There are so many reasons to kneel [in my opinion]; BLM is just one of them. I’m kneeling in protest of all the egregious acts that are happening right now and for the bad path we’re on.”

Not only did she talk to Black Lives Matter leaders but Schlag, the daughter of an Air Force veteran, also spoke to many veterans about kneeling for the flag. Some were upfront that they were upset and were “disgusting with their comments and threats of physical violence” while others were “proud and supportive.” Schlag tried to explain to veterans, and others, that kneeling is only one way to express herself and that she works hard advocating and working on local issues, environmental policies, and women’s issues.

“I strongly believe you have to follow up thoughts and opinions with real activism to address the issues and problems of today,” explained Schlag. “Protesting means nothing on its own….We all need to stand up for what we believe in.”

In an interview with CNN, Schlag said that she feels that the part of the Pledge that says “with liberty and justice for all” doesn’t mean anything anymore, but she believes people of all ages are fighting every day so that we can have liberty and justice in America.

“I urge everyone to fight for those that have nothing and speak for those that don’t have a voice,” said Schlag. “Get involved in your local government; learn what’s really going on. This is your future, and if you don’t take part in the planning of it, the laws and social order of tomorrow might not be to your liking. My advice: step up now, or else.”

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