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Republican lawmakers push measures to ensure U.S. flag never banned on campus

Some question whether the efforts are necessary and prudent

In response to a recent decision to ban the American flag at the publicly funded University of California-Irvine, several lawmakers have proposed legislation that aims to ensure the stars and stripes will always wave on college campuses.

In California, a constitutional amendment proposed by several Republican state legislators declares “display of the flag of the United States shall not be prohibited on the grounds of a campus of the University of California, the California State University, or the California community colleges.”

Similarly, in Washington D.C., U.S. Congressman Sean Duffy recently proposed a bill, dubbed the “No Federal Funds Without the American Flag Act,” which prohibits a college from obtaining federal funds if it bans the U.S. flag from campus grounds.

“If a school chooses not to display the American flag, it also chooses not to receive American taxpayer dollars,” Duffy stated when announcing the measure, citing the incident at UC Irvine as part of his motivation.

In early March, a small student government subcommittee at UC Irvine held a vote to ban the American flag from a campus lobby. Their resolution asserted the American flag could be interpreted as hate speech, as some may consider it a symbol of colonialism and imperialism. The subcommittee hoped to create a “safe, inclusive space for all students.”

That decision prompted a national uproar and was quickly vetoed by the student government’s executive committee. Duffy said he believes the legislation is still needed, despite UC Irvine leaders’ insistence that the flag ban was driven by a select group of students whose views are not representative of the student body.

“I’m glad this ban was quickly reversed by the student body’s executive cabinet,” Duffy stated in a news release. “However, we have a duty to ensure this never happens again.”

Duffy’s bill was introduced March 26 and has been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Meanwhile, the constitutional amendment Republican lawmakers have proposed in California has also been referred to several subcommittees for review.

The California effort is spearheaded by state Sen. Janet Nguyen, who said in announcing the measure that “I came to this country as an immigrant searching for freedom and democracy and I would not be here today if it were not for the American flag. The veterans that are here with us today and the thousands of servicemen and women fighting throughout the world deserve for us to make every effort to ensure that the American flag is proudly displayed at public universities and colleges throughout California. That is why we have introduced this Senate Constitutional Amendment.”

Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen, five senators, three assembly members, and various representatives from veterans’ advocacy groups support Senator Nguyen’s effort.

“As a veteran with family who gave their life defending our flag, I will do everything in my power to protect the most recognized symbol of freedom and liberty that the world has ever seen,” Assemblyman Bill Brough stated.

If passed by the state legislature, and approved by California voters on the November 2016 ballot, the amendment will go into effect immediately.

Yet, critics have raised the concern that the amendment is unnecessary, as the six students who voted for the flag ban were an outspoken minority whom student government executives quickly silenced.

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times summed up the legislative success of UC Irvine’s student government in writing, “problem solved. The system of legislative checks and balances did its job. The flag would remain. Hooray for democracy. That should have been the end of the story.”

When UC Irvine’s student government executive committee had vetoed the measure, the cabinet pointed out that “we fundamentally disagree with the actions taken by [the subcommittee] as counter to the ideals that allow us to operate as an autonomous student government organization with the freedoms of speech and expression associated with it.”

“It is these very symbols that represent our constitutional rights that have allowed for our representative creation and our ability to openly debate all ranges of issues and pay tribute to how those liberties were attained,” the executive committee stated.

Los Angeles Times editors called Nguyen’s legislation a “publicity stunt that could conceivably make real law, which would be a grave overreaction.”

And Howard Gillman, chancellor of UC Irvine, pointed out in a March 16 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that “the flag has never stopped flying at UCI.”

“The student government has addressed the question of what happens in that small lobby area. And there will continue to be people — on college campuses and throughout the country — who resist calls to salute or respect the flag. This is a feature of university life and a measure of a free society. On behalf of the flag, we must stand up against those who will use harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against these expressions.”

College Fix reporter Kate Hardiman is a student at the University of Notre Dame.

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Kate Hardiman -- University of Notre Dame

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