TEQUESTA — Basil E. Dalack so strongly believes the war in Iraq is illegal, he's willing to give up his office over it.
Dalack, an appellate lawyer who recently won a seat on the Tequesta Village Council, is refusing to take the oath of office because it requires him to "support, protect and defend" the federal and state governments. To him, that's the equivalent of "blind support" of the war and of Bush administration policies. If Dalack took the oath, he says, he'd have "the blood of all those Iraqi and American kids on my hands."
Dalack, 76, filed a lawsuit in federal court Friday alleging that the oath violates the Constitution by placing a "prior restraint" on his right to free speech and denying him, without due process, occupancy of his elective office.
He is due to be sworn in Thursday at a village council meeting, but he's told Village Manager Michael Couzzo Jr. that he will not repeat the current version of the oath. Dalack served on the council from 1999 until his defeat in 2003.
"No citizen of the Unites States should be required to swear to support the government, which is the (Bush) administration," said Dalack, who served in the Army in Korea during the Korean War. "Those kids in Iraq died only because of George Bush, and I will not swear to support a government with immoral and unlawful policies."
Until the situation is resolved, the village council will govern with four members instead of five.
The council, along with Couzzo and the village attorney, will hold an executive session today to discuss how to respond to the lawsuit. The meeting is not open to residents, including Dalack.
On Thursday, Dalack told Couzzo he could take the oath if the word "support" were removed. Couzzo said he reviewed Tequesta's charter, which includes the wording of the oath, and determined he has no authority to modify it. Only residents can approve a charter change, he said.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare the oath unconstitutional and force the removal of the words "and government" from the section that reads, "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support, protect and defend the Constitution and government of the United States and of the state of Florida."
Vice Mayor Pat Watkins said she is perplexed by Dalack's stance because he took the same oath in 1999 when he was first elected.
"I think everyone was stunned that he would run for office and then say he can't take the oath," said Watkins, who defeated Dalack in 2003. "For me, it was an honor and a privilege to have taken it, and I was proud to take it for those who elected me."
Watkins also does not believe the war in Iraq is "illegal," she said.
Dalack won the uncontested race in February, taking the vacant seat formerly held by retired Marine Corps Col. Edward Resnik, who died Nov. 8 of lung cancer at age 75.
Dalack was so looking forward to claiming his seat that he had business cards made up with his new title. But a week or two ago, he looked at the oath he would have to take.
"I said, 'Oh my God, I can't swear to this,' " said Dalack, who is a member of several peace organizations, including Veterans For Peace. "It had never dawned on me before then that I couldn't take it."
Dalack, who said he did not entirely recall the oath from when he'd taken it in 1999, makes no secret of his anti-war views. He wears a black tie every day in honor of the Iraqi and American dead and says he will wear it until U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq.
His views were already known to the council. During the public comments section of their March meeting, he proposed a resolution calling for troop withdrawal from Iraq and the impeachment of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for committing what Dalack calls war crimes.
"It was startling," said Watkins. "The consensus of the council was that they did not want to place it on the agenda."
Dalack is not deterred. He said will continue to speak out against the war and criticize the Bush administration. He will not compromise his beliefs, even if it means never regaining the office that is rightfully his.
"I have to do the right as I see the right," he said.