In Defense of the American Flag & Freedom of Expression

UC Irvine has received a lot of attention recently, but this time for all the wrong reasons.  The ASUCI Legislative Council recently voted to remove the American flag, as well as all other flags, on a 6-4-2 vote. Almost immediately after the resolution passed, we have seen a large backlash, both within the school and throughout the nation.

Our belief is that the legislation in question, R50-70, is an attack on free expression and is a misguided attempt at inclusion that not only attacks our country and paints it with a brush of hatred, but also discourages diversity and pluralism by barring the display of any flag. Though the resolution refers to flags within the ASUCI office, it is important to point out that the Legislative Council is the representative body of students at UCI and that the ASUCI office is a public space open to all students, so this rule affects more than just ASUCI. In addition, the arguments that were used to justify the resolution were fundamentally unfair and wrong.

One of the most divisive points made in the language of the flag resolution claimed that freedom of speech “in a space that aims to be as inclusive as possible can be interpreted as hate speech.” This justification for attacks on freedom of speech has been a disturbing trend as of late, and UC Irvine is now at the center of a larger controversy spanning college campuses nationwide. We must affirm that as institutions of higher learning, universities should encourage pluralism and freedom speech, not suppress it.  We pursue the ideal for diversity, but how could there be diversity without expression? How could there be inclusiveness if nothing is included. Flags are not meant to alienate, they are meant to celebrate and share different cultures from all over the world. To condemn that expression as nothing more than hate speech is an affront to the values held in a cosmopolitan and diverse university such as this one. We realize that not everyone may share the same view about a given subject, but if the goal is to eliminate all expression that could be deemed offensive, we may as well not have public expression to begin with. Even that type of response is counterproductive, as we saw thousands of students strongly oppose the legislation. In the public sphere, it is paramount to support free expression and treat differences with respect and tolerance to foster the diverse environment universities seek to create.

The American flag has been a beacon of hope for years to those who could not have otherwise experienced true liberty in their respective nations; it has embodied the notion that this nation offers something unique in its constitutional system and its democratic traditions. The fact that the Legislative Council even voted to remove the flag is in itself proof of the amount of freedom we as Americans possess, freedoms that are ironically represented by the very flag the Legislative Council proposed to remove. It should be noted that our society does not “idolize” freedom, equality and democracy as the legislation suggested; these three ideals are the very foundation our country was born upon. Thousands have sacrificed and put their lives in danger to protect this country and its flag.

Yes, this country’s history has not always been bright, but that still does not excuse an overt attack on Old Glory. The Constitution starts with “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union”, and throughout our history, we have been active in moving toward that ideal. The flag may have been only removed from ASUCI’s office, but it is in that office particularly where the flag should be hung, proudly and prominently. It should act as a reminder to all of us of the values and ideas that led millions of people all over the world to immigrate to this great nation and of all the lives that were lost protecting our freedoms.

We humbly thank Reza Zomorrodian and the rest of the Executive Council for vetoing this unfair legislation. They were correct to act on behalf of the students who voiced their opinions on this legislation. Even though this was a testing time for all Anteaters, it was good to see so many students participate in the legislative process, and hopefully this jump in activity continues for future issues that arise, so that the students’ voices are heard and respected. We believe that the veto was the right choice and we look forward to working as a campus to restore the image of our school.

 

George Novshadyan is a second-year undecided/undeclared student. He can be reached at gnovshad@uci.edu.

Robert Petrosyan is a second year political science and business economics double major. He can be reached at rpetros1@uci.edu.