Fact check: Photo of state senators protesting the Pledge of Allegiance is from 2009
The claim: A photo shows state senators in New York refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance
A photo shared thousands of times on Facebook purports to show state senators in New York refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
The caption of the photo in some posts — which is actually a screenshot of another post from May 2018 — encourages New Yorkers to "vote them all out."
Photo captured a moment of protest over a decade ago
The photo, by Tim Roske for the Associated Press, actually was taken June 23, 2009.
It captured a single moment in a months-long battle between Democrats and Republicans for control of the chamber, according to The Journal News.
In 2008, Democrats won a majority in the New York State Senate for the first time in decades, though only by a slim margin — 32-30. Soon after, though, two Democrats announced that they were switching their allegiances and partnering with Republicans for control of the chamber.
The rest of the Democrats refused to recognize the change in power after this so-called coup. When one of the defectors rejoined the Democrats, the Senate was deadlocked at 31 apiece. The post of lieutenant governor was vacant at the time, so there was no one to break the tie.
A monthlong standstill ensued. Republicans attempted to hold a session. But the Democrats ignored them — at one point turning off the lights in the chamber, and at another, remaining seated as the Republicans stood to say the Pledge of Allegiance. That's when Roske took the photo.
The conflict ended only after the other defector returned to the Democratic side, too. (He was appointed majority leader.)
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Photo has previously resurfaced online
This is not the first time photo has resurfaced at moments of heightened national tension.
In 2016, for example, then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began to protest police brutality and systemic racism by taking a knee as the national anthem played at NFL games.
In response, the photo was shared widely with the caption, "Y'all get mad at an athlete ... this is your government."
At the time, Snopes debunked a similar claim about the photo, which some claimed to be from the U.S. Congress, not the New York State Senate.
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Most legislators pictured no longer in New York State Senate
In the photo, a number of legislators who are seated are labeled.
Most are not active in the New York State Senate now, nullifying the call to "vote them out."
They include Bill Perkins, who served from 2007-17; Craig Johnson, who served from 2007-11; Darrel Aubertine, who served from 2008-10; David Valesky, who served from 2005-19; Jeffrey Klein, who served from 2005-18; and Malcom Smith, who served from 2000-14.
The photo also includes the labeled empty chair of Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who is the current majority leader of the now-63-seat chamber, which is controlled by Democrats.
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Our rating: Partly false
Based on our research, the claim about the photo is PARTLY FALSE because it is actually from 2009 but the screenshot attributes it to a post in 2018. Though the moment did occur in the New York State Senate and the photo is real, it was an anomaly in a contentious political battle rather than a protest of the Pledge of Allegiance itself.
Our fact-check sources:
- Tim Roske, Associated Press, June 23, 2009
- The Journal News, "Kaepernick protest gives Senate coup new life"
- Snopes, "Is This a Picture of Congressmembers Sitting During the Pledge of Allegiance?"
- New York State Senate, "Bill Perkins"
- New York State Senate, "Craig Johnson"
- New York State Senate, "Darrel Aubertine"
- New York State Senate, "David Valesky"
- New York State Senate, "Jeffrey Klein"
- New York State Senate, "Malcom Smith"
- New York State Senate, "Andrea Stewart-Cousins"
- New York State Senate, "Senators and Committees"
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