Leg Council Misunderstands Patriotic Symbol

Last week, the ASUCI Legislative Council voted to forbid the use of the American flag in the ASUCI main lobby because it “can be interpreted as hate speech.”

The American flag can mean so many things for so many people. Are some people offended by its display? Of course, I get it. It may represent colonialism, imperialism, racism, torture and a multitude of items we disagree about or feel uncomfortable with. But if we seek to overlook the meaning it has for so many people who look up at that star-spangled banner with great reverence and pride, we alienate one another. We fail to carry on the mission that our forerunners marked in blood: to form a more perfect union. I am saddened to declare that Legislative Council, in an attempt to do what they believed was right, failed to promote that most necessary ideal.

The issue at hand is inclusivity. We must admit that the goal of attaining inclusivity, though a noble endeavor with sincere intentions,  is nonetheless a fool’s errand. When we strive for inclusivity, we admit that we have not evolved as a society to move beyond the limitations of political correctness.

If we are afraid of offending each other so much that we seek to throw free speech out the window under the guise of “inclusivity” and “political correctness,” as if it were hate speech, then we do not wholeheartedly appreciate and/or stand for diversity. If we truly believed in diversity and free speech, we wouldn’t try to restrict each other’s differences in background or opinion. Leg. Council would have understood that some may find it offensive, but would have also realized that the purpose of free speech is not to hide us from what we don’t want to know or hear, but to protect our right to express such controversial and offensive material.

Despite our disagreements, we all appreciate this country for the opportunities we have in it — that’s why we’re here to begin with. We live here and most of us were born here. We just want this country to be an even better place. We live with patriots and bigots, but we respect each other nonetheless and protect each other’s right to carry the same flag for different reasons. We must remember that to some people, the American flag meant protecting slavery, but for others it meant abolishing the institution altogether to promote equality. Today, it represents the ideals of both liberals and conservatives, as well as people from all walks of life and we stand by that.

I am not a bigot for loving my country. As a history major, I know all too well its flaws and injustices, but I cannot deny my sincerest devotion to it. If someone is offended by the American flag, or the U.S. Constitution, or anything else they deem both American and offensive, it’s okay. In fact, I would prefer it if they would just openly burn the American flag because at least they can actively express themselves, but prohibiting the display of the flag reveals the fact that we are not at that stage in our society for being truly accepting, tolerant or respectful of diversity and free speech.

The way Leg. Council handled this was completely juvenile and I can’t process this flag ban without feeling shame in Leg. Council and UCI in general. I am truly disappointed by this resolution for its complete disregard of its intended purpose. Instead of being more inclusive, I am left alienated and unwilling to believe in my school as a beacon of diversity. Statistically and on paper, it may pass as a diverse campus, but until we truly understand what diversity entails, we sit in darkness. Until we learn to differentiate free speech from hate speech, we are ignorant and unaware.

On my part, that’s what the American flag means. It stands for liberty and equality; it means diversity and unity. It declares that we as a nation of nations, as a land of immigrants, cannot only tolerate each other, but can accept the fact that despite our many differences, we can coexist and respect each other. When we can do this, we will move that much closer to forming a more perfect union, and that is all this country can ask for. That, to me, is what the American flag is all about.

Nathan J. Lainez is a second-year history major. He can be reached at nlainez@uci.edu.