An Inclusive Litany

9/17/01

In North Carolina, Chapel Hill town officials ordered a local restaurant to take down a banner proclaiming "God bless America, woe to our enemies," ostensibly because zoning ordinances require temporary placards to have an area of no more than six square feet, but three members of the town council had objected to the content of the message. One councilman, Bill Strom, said: "Personally, I found the language offensive. I didn't find the 'God Bless America' offensive and appreciate everyone's show of unity. But the implied tone of 'woe to our enemies' is not the message I have been giving my child. Nor do I feel it's an appropriate banner to hang in the middle of downtown Chapel Hill."

NCCI Holdings, a firm based in Boca Raton, Florida, banned American flags from the workplace and confiscated flags from some cubicles because, according to a memo from CEO Bill Schrempf, "divisive statements or actions, political or religious discussions and anything else that could be divisive or mean different things to different people are not appropriate in our work environment." The policy lasted until 4:00 PM the day it was enacted.

In Pennsylvania, Lehigh University also briefly banned display of the American flag "so non-American students would not feel uncomfortable," in the words of John Smeaton, vice provost for student affairs, who ordered the removal. Another school official later said, "We have such a diverse student body and emotions are so high right now. The idea was to keep from offending some of our students, and maybe the result was much to the contrary.... A mistake was made."

A Florida Gulf Coast University librarian asked an employee to remove a sticker that read "Proud to be an American," because, again, she didn't want to offend international students. "We've tried really hard to make sure people on our campus don't feel like they're looked at differently because they come from different religious or ethnic backgrounds," said a spokeswoman for the school. "If a mistake was made, it was made out of a very pure motive."

On Sunday, September 30, the New York Times ran three different articles suggesting that flag-waving represented a menacing and oppressive trend. Maureen Dowd wrote an op-ed accusing President Bush of "playing the flag card" in order to curb free expression. On the front page of the opinion section Blaine Hardin explored how "the flag, as much as any symbol, embodies the paradox [of how] constitutional rights, which supposedly form the core of patriotism's appeal, suddenly lost ground to fear." And in the magazine section, George Packer explained why the flag wasn't displayed in his liberal household: "Display wasn't just politically suspect, it was simply bad taste, sentimental, primitive, sometimes aggressive."

The Los Angeles Times reports that some "activists" are uncomfortable with the many American flags on display. Roger Lowenstein, whom the Times inexplicably identifies as "a patriot," said: "I grew up suspicious of the flag. It meant right-wing politics. It meant repression. It meant arrogance. It meant, 'We're the greatest.' " Jodi Evans of Venice, California, says: "I feel confused and disconnected [from the flag]. Haven't people learned anything in the last 30 years? Haven't they been watching what America has been doing around the world? Instead of feeling humility and compassion, it seems like the flag is being flown to just arrogantly continue what we've been doing."

Also in Los Angeles, city council member Ruth Galanter is proposing that the Council recite a "pledge of allegiance to the Earth" at the beginning of council meetings. It reads: "I pledge allegiance to the Earth on which I stand, one world, one people, undivided, with food, shelter and justice for all."

Finally, Berkeley's city manager forced local firefighters to remove American flags from their fire trucks because the sight could have made nearby peace demonstrators feel uncomfortable, and possibly violent.

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