The UC Davis student senate has made it optional to display the American flag at its meetings, stirring up controversy on campus and conservative blogs.
Senate Bill 76 passed Thursday, said Michael Gofman, a student senator who opposed the change.
The bill amends bylaws that required the United States flag to be on display at every senate meeting of the Associated Students, University of California, Davis. The revised bylaws give senate members the option to petition for the display of the flag 24 hours before each meeting. The ASUCD senate pro tem ultimately has authority to decide whether the U.S. flag will be displayed, according to the revision.
The resolution says that since “the concept of United States of America and patriotism is different for every individual, it should not be compulsory that the flag is in view at all times during Senate meetings.”
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Jose Antonio Meneses, who introduced the resolution, said the changes were meant to ensure the student government is following federal law, which he says doesn’t allow an organization to mandate displaying the flag.
“It wasn’t political in any way,” Meneses said. “But because it is the United States flag ... it’s a touchy subject to talk about. We want to make sure we are not sued.”
Gofman disagreed, saying all governing bodies within the U.S. – including a student senate – should display the flag.
“It was a purely political issue from the start,” Gofman said.
The student government decision drew attention from internet blogs, many conservative – including Fox News Insider, the Daily Caller and The Blaze. Some stories say the flag has been “banned,” “banished” or “dropped.”
Meneses said that while he supports freedom of speech, many of the stories are inaccurate.
“It’s not a ban on the flag,” he said.
He cited a 1943 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found West Virginia could not compel students to salute the flag or recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
“The opinion in that case is that you can’t force people to pledge your allegiance, by (the flag) being there; by extension, you are pledging your allegiance to a symbol that you don’t relate to or that you don’t equate yourself with,” he said Monday.
He said the flag has never been on display during his two years on the student senate, and no one asked about it or the bylaw requirement until now.
A Facebook post by Gofman the day before the meeting prompted offers of flag donations from veterans groups and fraternities. Gofman plans to introduce a resolution that would allow any member of the senate to bring and display an American flag at any meeting.
There is not enough patriotism, especially at UC Davis, said Gofman, who describes himself as a first-generation American.
“I have a much closer connection to places outside of America,” he said. “I understand what the alternative looks like. I don’t think members of the senate know what it is like to live in a totalitarian country.”
Gofman said he wasn’t aware there was a resolution making the display of the flag mandatory.
“Once it was brought up, I was shocked and embarrassed about it not being followed,” he said.
The controversy over the resolution has generated a lot of negative email to the student senate.
Gofman said that much of the email is from alumni saying they are upset with the decision and don’t plan to donate to the school again.
In a statement on Facebook, Gofman condemned two of the emails, one he characterized as “racist” and the other as threatening the physical safety of the senators who voted against the bill.
“This is unacceptable behavior,” he said.
Meneses said much of the hate mail is based on incorrect facts.
“When I introduced the bill, I didn’t know it would be controversial,” he said.