Religious leaders on Thursday came to the defense of state Senate candidate Sara Niccoli for not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance based on her religious beliefs, following vicious attacks on her on Facebook.
Four Capital Region ministers appeared at the state Capitol in Albany to denounce the criticisms posted over the last week. They linked the Facebook postings to the campaign of her opponent, incumbent state Sen. George Amedore.
That Facebook page has drawn online numerous angry comments calling Niccoli unpatriotic and unfit for office, and even making death threats. The anonymous post said Niccoli didn’t recite the pledge, without explaining why.
Niccoli, supervisor of the western Montgomery County town of Palatine since 2014, is the Democratic candidate in the 46th state Senate District, running against Amedore, R-Rotterdam.
Niccoli is a Quaker, who rises to her feet for the Pledge of Allegiance at meetings and events, but does not speak it, because Quakers don’t take pledges.
“I just on many levels find it is incredibly disturbing to be attacked on religious beliefs,” Niccoli said in an interview on Thursday. “This is really an example of extremism. It’s right out of the Trump playbook.”
The ministers, who represented traditional Protestant denominations, said the attacks on Niccoli were religiously based and were wrong.
“It goes against both the best teachings of our many faith traditions and our common values as Americans to ridicule or assault someone based on their religious observances. Yet that is exactly what is happening with attacks on Sara Niccoli and her convictions as an observant Quaker,” said the Rev. Dustin G. Wright of Schenectady, an Evangelical Lutheran Church minister.
“This shadowy group, attacking Sara Niccoli’s religious observances on behalf of Senator Amedore, is actually attacking the sacrosanct American value of religious freedom and tolerance,” said Reformed Church minister Rev. Stacey Midge of Schenectady.
Amedore’s spokeswoman, however, said the senator has no connection to the Facebook attacks. She responded with a prepared statement.
“The page was not created by our campaign. Senator Amedore is a staunch supporter of the Constitution, and all the freedoms and liberties that are protected by it,” said spokeswoman Eileen Miller.
The Facebook post, on a page labeled “TheREALSaraNiccoli,” was published on June 29, and as of Thursday had drawn more than 300 “likes” and well over 100 individual comments, many of them nasty, angry, sexist and profane, criticizing Niccoli for not saying the pledge and calling her unfit to hold office.
The post’s anonymous author does not explain that such refusal is a matter of religion.
Quoting the Pledge of Allegiance and citing the July 4 holiday, the author wrote: “It’s unacceptable that state Senate candidate Sara Niccoli refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Tell Sara Niccoli to honor America! LIKE and SHARE this post.”
Niccoli said the comments have included death threats.
“This isn’t about my religion, but an attack against all religions,” she said.
Niccoli said she stands respectfully when the Pledge of Allegiance is being recited by others.
“I stand for it and I believe in everything it stands for, but as a Quaker I do not take pledges,” she explained.
Quaker is the common term for members of the Religious Society of Friends, whose members believe in a strong inner relationship with God and reject sacraments, ritual and formal ministry.
Niccoli has run for the Senate this year on a platform primarily focused on the need for ethics reform in Albany.
“I think about what our freedoms are, and that includes our freedom of religion,” she said.
The 46th Senate District includes all of Montgomery and Greene counties, and parts of Schenectady, Albany, and Ulster counties. The district has 67,151 registered Democrats, 55,296 registered Republicans and 54,668 unaffiliated voters, according to the most recent state Board of Elections statistics.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.
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