Capitol Alert

California Republicans seek to nix campus flag bans

The American flag hangs from Sacramento Fire Department aerial ladders during the Sacramento Rally to Support Law Officers at the Capitol Jan. 18.
The American flag hangs from Sacramento Fire Department aerial ladders during the Sacramento Rally to Support Law Officers at the Capitol Jan. 18. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

California Republicans want the stars and stripes flying high at college campuses.

Responding to college students’ unsuccessful push to prevent the unfurling of flags from any nation at university buildings, Republican lawmakers are seeking a constitutional amendment saying American flags cannot be prohibited on school property at state-funded universities. Supported by GOP party leadership, the measure would need to secure a two-thirds vote in the Democratic-controlled Legislature and then win voter approval.

“Our flag is not just a flag that we pledge allegiance to – it is a beacon of hope,” said Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, surrounded by veterans and fellow Republican legislators. “It may mean many things to many people, and our campuses are very international,” he added, “ but by the same token our education is one of our best exports, and when people go back to their respective countries they should have profound respect that we share for our flag and what it means to us.”

Student government members at the University of California, Irvine provoked a heated debate last week by passing a resolution barring flags – including American flags – from being displayed at campus buildings. The resolution called the American flag a potentially exclusionary symbol with connotations of “colonialism and imperialism.” The student body president and the administration quickly rejected the action, and the student government executive cabinet vetoed it.

A posting on the Associated Students of UC Irvine Facebook page, signed by a trio of student representatives who backed the resolution, explained that they pursued the measure after an American flag put up by a student government member was repeatedly taken down. The resolution sought to carve out “a safe, inclusive space for all individuals” and “meant no ill will towards our nation nor its flag,” read the posting.

“It was our intention to resolve the problem for our fellow ASUCI members by reverting things to the way they were before the dispute began,” the students wrote, “when the common space had no flags present and there was no surrounding conflict.”

Republicans share some rare common ground on the issue with the American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU of California Center for Advocacy and Policy head Natasha Minsker said students had overstepped, though the ACLU has not taken a position on a California constitutional amendment Minsker said might be unnecessary.

“We believe that there is a constitutional amendment that protects the right to display a flag, and that’s the First Amendment,” Minsker said.

Getting the amendment before voters would require Democratic votes. In a statement, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, called the flag ban at UC Irvine “outrageous” and “rightly overturned” but did not endorse the Republicans’ proposal.

“I believe we can foster respect for the flag without having to change the state constitution,” Atkins said.

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.

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