Free-speech rights ran headlong into a veteran’s love of country when she took the protesters’ American flag because they were trampling on it.
Air Force veteran Michelle Manhart approached a group of protesters who were walking on Old Glory at Valdosta State University in south Georgia, the Valdosta Daily Times reported Friday.
Manhart told the newspaper she was not planning to take the flag at first.
“I did not want anything like this, but I got a call from a student who told me that the flag was on the ground, and they were walking on it,” she said.
“I was just going over there to pick up the flag off the ground. I don’t know what their cause is, but I went to pick it up because it doesn’t deserve to be on the ground.”
University police officers responded and took Manhart into custody, then returned the flag to the protesters, according to the Daily Times. Manhart admitted that she resisted arrest.
Neither the demonstrators nor the police pressed charges against Manhart. Instead, she was given a criminal trespass warning.
Andy Clark, vice president for enrollment, marketing and communications told the Daily Times the warning effectively bans Manhart from any university activity, including graduation and football games.
The protestors declined to comment or identify their cause, although they engaged in spirited debate with university students. Clark said that Valdosta State University officials couldn’t determine if the protesters were students, but added that they had the right to protest on campus.
After the incident, the demonstrators refused to produce student identification cards to campus police, and they were then asked to disperse, the Daily Times reported.
“We respect the rights of people to peacefully assemble and voice their opinions,” the Board of Regents said in a statement. “Our primary concern is the safety of our students, faculty and staff and our ability to carry out our responsibilities to all our students on campus. We are monitoring the situation.”
Manhart said she disagreed with the protesters’ methods, no matter what their cause was.
“If your cause is racism then find some white people and walk on them,” she said. “But to walk on the flag is walking on our symbol of freedom. You have the freedom to do what you are doing because of it. I’m not fighting against them. I’m fighting against the way they are going about it.”
Manhart, a former Air Force Staff Sergeant, is best known for being relieved from duty after posing nude in Playboy in 2007.