Amherst Town Council backs changes to state seal

Staff Writer
Published: 3/5/2019 12:09:52 AM

AMHERST — Supporting values of inclusiveness and being a welcoming community, the Town Council is endorsing possible changes to the Massachusetts state seal and urging state authorities to allow the First Congregational Church to remain a temporary shelter for a man who risks being deported.

In the first of two actions Monday, the council voted 10-0, with At-Large Councilors Alisa Brewer and Mandi Jo Hanneke and District 3 Councilor George Ryan abstaining, to support bills filed in the Legislature that would create a commission to review aspects of the seal. The seal depicts an arm holding a sword above the head of an American Indian, surrounded by the state motto “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty,” written in Latin.

Elaine Kenseth, a 73-year resident of Amherst, presented the resolution to the council.

“To me what’s outrageous is that the motto for our state is ‘by the sword we seek peace,’” Kenseth said. “I think that, with a lot of things that have happened in Massachusetts, we would deserve to have a better motto than that.”

Kenseth added that the native person is not representative of the Wampanoag or other New England tribes, and the sword hovering above him is inappropriate.

District 2 Councilor Patricia DeAngelis said what she sees in the seal is an image of genocide.

“I feel strongly we need to do this. I feel white America has to take responsibly for what we’ve done and how we’ve created this country,” DeAngelis said.

District 5 Councilor Darcy Dumont said this is an appropriate issue on which to take a stand. “It seems like a fantastic thing, a positive thing, for the Town Council to do at this time,” Dumont said.

Those who abstained cited the challenges in voting on an issue on which they hadn’t gotten feedback from their constituents.

Northampton City Council approved a similar resolution last week, and Hadley Town Meeting will vote on it in May.

David Detmold of Montague, who has spearheaded efforts in the region to change the state seal, said the image is harmful for children because it represents white supremacy, comparing the Massachusetts flag to the stars and bars of the Confederate battle flag on Mississippi’s flag. “It’s nakedly clear what it represents,” he said.

Sanctuary resolution

In support of the church’s variance from the building code, the council adopted a resolution 13-0.

The Rev. Vicki Kemper said officials at the Building Code Appeals Board told the church in July that it would have to make changes to the church permanent to continue to provide sanctuary to Lucio Perez, the undocumented immigrant and father of four from Guatemala who has been living at the church since October 2017.

Such major renovations, including making the bathroom and shower handicapped-accessible, would cost at least $75,000, Kemper said.

The hope is that the appeals board will approve and extend the church’s previous variance for another nine months, subject to conditional approval by town inspectors.

“We have no intention to become a permanent shelter for Mr. Perez,” Kemper said, adding that his home is in Springfield with his family.

State Rep. Mindy Domb told the council that she has introduced legislation to consider church sanctuaries temporary, noting that to do otherwise would put burdens on churches and discourage them from serving that function.

Domb added that she sees the temporary accommodations for Perez as no different than how she views the White House for its current occupant.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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