An American flag altered to appear that it was burned has been hanging in the art department at the University of Dayton for a week, and it has elicited a wide range of hand-written responses.
The flag was hung in a hallway at Fitz Hall by an anonymous individual two days after the election. It will remain there, said UD Provost Paul Benson, citing First Amendment rights and what he called the university’s mission to accept divergent opinions.
“We take very seriously the fact that an image of this sort is very upsetting to many, including many on our campus. We acknowledge that fact,” Benson said Wednesday. “That’s one of the things that is difficult about our First Amendment commitments.
“But we have to tolerate and respect in an appropriate way divergent opinions. We believe that’s one of the things that makes our country great.”
Next to the flag, a couple dozen notes convey a variety of views, some mentioning last week’s election and some critical of President-elect Donald Trump.
One response recites the Pledge of Allegiance over several pieces of paper.
Another says, “For the first time I am ashamed to attend the University of Dayton.”
Another says, “Let’s make America great again by waving our flag, not burning it. Let’s be proud.”
As a private property owner, UD has the right to take down the flag, but has chosen to allow it to be displayed.
“They have the right to control what is or is not on their land,” said Jane Lynch, an attorney for Green & Green Lawyers in Dayton. “But if they are respecting the student’s rights for First Amendment expression, that’s a balancing decision they have to make.
“I get the fact that an institute of higher learning is trying to demonstrate that the First Amendment protects even that speech that you disagree with — especially that speech. That’s the whole point of it.”
Benson said he did not know the intent of the artist, but was encouraged that the design encourages responses.
“While some of the views expressed are very strongly felt, this isn’t an environment in which people are shouting at one another,” he said. “This is a way people can share strong feelings in a respectful and civil manner.
“That, along with the First Amendment protections, leads the university to feel, that while many may be offended by the piece, in an education environment it’s important to respect the artist’s right to present it in this way.”
It is not illegal to physically desecrate the flag. Benson said the artist’s message — We Will Move Forward — could be interpreted in many ways.
UD has held sessions on campus for students and faculty who want to discuss the outcome of the election.
Campuses nationwide have holding similar events and have been the site of protests. According to Inside Higher Ed, American flags have been burned at the University of Missouri, American University and Hampshire College.