In the late 80s, when I was stationed in Germany at what was called a “remote site,” I noticed early on that our tiny little post didn’t have a flag. That bothered me. It seemed wrong on a number of levels that a US military post in a foreign country wouldn’t fly the US Flag. I started asking questions, and never got a clear answer, so I wrote a letter to the Stars and Stripes, lamenting the absence of a flag and the apparent inability of the Army supply system to get one to us. Two days later, the local community commander—a full colonel—arrived with a flag.
A few years ago, I noticed a church that I drove by on a regular basis had a pretty tattered flag on its poll. It bothered me enough that I found the church’s phone number and called to complain about the condition of the flag. I offered to pick it up for disposal by our Boy Scout troop, which retired flags twice a year on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. (By the way, if you ever want to retire one of your own flags, find a Scout troop. They’ll be glad to do it for you.)
All of this to say that the American Flag is important to me. It symbolizes many things, but to me the most important thing is freedom. Freedom from government oppression. And that brings us to this gem from the Henryettan. Henryetta is a town of about 5,500 people in Okmulgee County, Oklahoma, about 40-ish miles from here. Police Chief Steve Norman said that “We had several calls within a few minutes by some local residents and we went down to the business and took the flag down.” He also said, “State law prohibits the display of a worn-out and tattered flag by anyone.”
That sounds interesting. Let’s turn to the Oklahoma Statutes, Title 21.
§21-372. Mutilation, treating with indignity or destroying flag ? Definitions.
A. Any person who shall contemptuously or maliciously tear down, burn, trample upon, mutilate, deface, defile, defy, treat with indignity, wantonly destroy, or cast contempt, either by word or act, upon any flag, standard, colors or ensign of the United States of America, shall be guilty of a felony.
B. The word “defile” as used in this section shall include public conduct which brings shame or disgrace upon any flag of the United States by its use for unpatriotic or profane purpose.
C. The terms “flag”, “standard”, “colors”, or “ensign” of the United States as used in this section shall include any picture, representation or part thereof which an average person would believe, upon seeing and without deliberation, to represent the flag, standard, colors or ensign of the United States of America.
That’s all well and good, but in United States v. Eichman SCOTUS held that “The government’s interest in preserving the flag as a symbol did not outweigh the individual right to disparage that symbol through expressive conduct.” I suspect no one has ever challenged the Oklahoma law, but I’m willing to bet it’s going to happen soon. One person over at OKShooters suggested that “the business owner had been asked to replace it over time and when he didn’t some golfing buddy with the DA got the ball rolling or some similar scenario.”
The article didn’t name the business, nor does the photo give any real indication as to the condition of the flag. But I cannot believe this rose to the point of calling the police over the flag. The comment from the witness almost fried my irony meter: “We have soldiers fighting overseas and, to see the flag disrespected that way is a shame. In New York, they might get away with it. This is Oklahoma and we won’t stand for it.” I wonder what he thinks those soldiers are fighting for?
I also find it interesting that §21-375 allows one to fly not only the US flag but also the French flag over “tax-supported property,” but not the flag of any other country. I wonder what Chief Norman would have to say about that?