There are few things that can bring tears to the eyes of grisly war veterans, few pieces of cloth that can make them weep. Yet when the American flag is raised on high, I have witnessed men tougher than nails be reduced to tears as the Star Spangled Banner rings out.
Yet, it is not the cloth or the colors that bring our toughest heroes to tears, but the powerful images and history that cloth represents. The flag is the United States of America, with every stripe and star representing the unique and varied citizens blessed enough to call themselves Americans.
Last week in Denver the flag was taken away, the right to celebrate its meaning was torn from some of our youngest citizens.
At Westminster’s Shaw Heights Middle School and Longmont’s Skyline High, two principals decreed that the American flag – along with other “related items” like patriotic bandannas – could not be worn, because of tensions between immigrants and other students.
According to a Denver Post article on Thursday, flags – American and Mexican – were used by students to taunt others. According to the Post, the principals banned the patriotic symbols for the “safety of the students,” preventing conflict between the groups by keeping students from wearing American or Mexican flags at school.
Dress codes have always been close to violating the First Amendment and our right to express ourselves through our apparel. It is understandable to have limitations on dress at schools, limitations that ensure no one feels threatened or offended by another’s clothing. Yet those limitations must be within reason. Preventing students from expressing their national pride and patriotism goes well beyond any level of such reasoning.
Our flag has united more people than any other in history. Since the Revolutionary War, our flag has allowed every ethnicity to unite under it and represent something greater than oneself. We are a nation of immigrants, a nation that has forever been a symbol of freedom of expression for the world; with a banner that has no relationship to ethnicity or race – only red, white and blue.
Preventing anyone from celebrating its importance is a crime in itself, a crime against our First Amendment rights and a crime against our history. The fact that some individuals used it in a threatening manner toward others should not – and cannot – prevent others from expressing their national pride.
The issue of immigration has been wildly debated lately, and I have been unable to take a side on how our government should handle the influx of people yearning to be American. Yet flag banning has brought a facet of the issue to my attention that I certainly have an opinion on.
The essence of what it means to be American cannot be sacrificed as new citizens enter our great country. That exact violation took place in Denver. By preventing American citizens from displaying their patriotism – because a sort of gang war broke out between the “U.S. Americans” and the “immigrant Americans” – we begin to forget our priorities.
At the top of our list must be to remember our identity – not as immigrant Russians, Mexicans, Muslims or Jews – but as individuals committed to the United States of America and the freedoms it represents.
We cannot sacrifice our right to be proud Americans, especially within the borders of our nation. Too many brave men fought and died for our flag and the freedoms it represents. Once it becomes against the rules to be proud of our nation, we have lost our priorities and ourselves.
School officials are planning to revisit their decisions in the coming weeks, and I cannot fathom they would not reverse their decisions. But if they do not, they will be sending a message that would make our forefathers turn in their graves – a message that states American pride is not a right, but something that can get you sent home from school.
School officials must find a way to keep students in line without taking away their rights; otherwise the students will learn something truly un-American – that no right is infallible, even in the freest nation on the planet. If they teach that lesson ladies and gentlemen, no one will want to wear the flag anymore because it will cease to stand for nothing more than the colors and fabric it is made of.
Jake Blumberg is a sophomore technical journalism and political science double major. His column runs every Monday in the Collegian.