WINTER GARDEN, Fla. (CBS Tampa) – A man was removed from a city commission meeting after not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance.

Winter Garden Mayor John Rees had police remove Joseph Richardson who wouldn’t stand for the opening invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance Thursday night.

“I just said, ‘Either stand or go in the hallway.’ He wouldn’t,” Rees told the Orlando Sentinel. “It wasn’t premeditated. I just reacted. It hit me. I said it. I gave him an option. … Life will go on.”

Richardson, who was sitting in the front row, told the 64-year-old mayor that he didn’t have to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

A crowd of about 150 people stood and waited for Richardson to stand.

“I don’t think I have to,” Richardson said, according to the Sentinel.

Commissioner Bobby Olszewski offered the invocation, which is a brief ceremonial prayer or reflection that opens the commission meetings. Rees addressed Richardson, who was still seated, after the invocation.

“Now, sir, please stand while we do the pledge. You don’t have to say it, but please stand,” Rees said, the Sentinel reports.

Rees spoke to Winter Garden Police Chief George A. Brennan when Richardson wouldn’t stand. He told the chief to ask Richardson to stand or escort him out until the crowd finishes with the pledge. Brennan asked Richardson what he would do and the man got up and left. He was not arrested.

The mayor shared that he didn’t know Richardson by name, but that he recognized him from previous meetings.

“He doesn’t come to the meetings because he cares about the city,” Rees told the Orlando Sentinel.

Richardson reportedly sent emails to local officials asking to be able to deliver an invocation to make it more inclusive instead of it being a very religious affair. But the city commissioner is in charge of giving the invocations during meetings.

“As a resident of Winter Garden, I would like our city to be known for its inclusiveness for all points of view and its respect for all individuals,” Richardson wrote in May, the Sentinel reported. “Opening up the commission meeting invocations to everyone would be a wonderful step in that direction.”

Rees explained that he considered Richardson’s refusal to stand to be disrespectful to American military troops who are serving overseas and individuals who have died defending freedom for Americans.


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