A tug-of-war is happening with the American flag.
With the terrorist attack on Pamela Geller’s Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, there’s been a renewed debate in the country over the limits of free speech – whether for those protesting America, or among those saying anti-Islamist events like Garland’s stretch the boundaries too far.
Flags are being burned and stomped by some citizens while patriots are fighting back with challenges to every American to proudly fly Old Glory.
In one recent event, during the April 17 demonstration in Valdosta, Ga., a veteran was taken into custody after rescuing a flag from abuse during a demonstration at Valdosta State University. That in turn led to a “F*** your flag!” challenge on social media that caused a firestorm of its own.
Meanwhile, on Monday, USA Today carried a report about an Arizona man posting a Facebook challenge of his own, asking Americans to fly a flag outside their home or business. That challenge has gone viral.
The ongoing conflict between the two sides caused social media to bring renewed attention to an event on the campus of Louisiana State University in 2011. Monday was that event’s anniversary.
Free speech clashed with free speech in May 2011 at Louisiana State University when a planned flag-burning demonstration was drowned out by hundreds of counter-demonstrators chanting “USA! USA!”
And the state Fire Marshall turned down a permit for it anyway.
The organizer of the event, Benjamin Haas, was set to begin reading from a prepared statement on the Baton Rouge campus when he was confronted by a man in military fatigues shouting, “My brothers died for you.”
But when he actually did start to read his statement, things got interesting.
“I initially began this flag-burning protest to defend the due process, of students and suspected terrorist alike,” he said before protesters chanting “USA! USA!” drowned him out.
LSU police stepped in and whisked him away, ending the demonstration, as Haas was pelted with water balloons and ice, according to ABC affiliate WBRZ.
Haas advertised on Facebook that he had permission to hold the protest over the arrest of an LSU student, Isaac Eslava, who was apprehended in 2011 on suspicion of cutting down and burning the school’s American flag to protest the Navy SEAL killing of Osama bin Laden, WRBZ reported.
Haas failed to get clearance from the state fire marshal to burn a flag at the event so that idea had to be nixed at the start, to the cheers of the hundreds of counter protesters, according to WBRZ.
“When you’ve seen your buddies come home wrapped in this flag, to watch something like this happen, not only is it un-American, it’s just not right,” Army veteran Doug Ducote told WBRZ.
“I’m beyond happy to see all these folks out here with flags and willing to stand up for what this means, you know, our freedom,” he added.
Haas only got to say a few words before the patriotic protesters destroyed his demonstration but WBRZ obtained a copy of the prepared statement.
“This country and the flag that flies over it stands for freedom, democracy, love, peace and the ability to question our government,” Haas wrote. “But today, it feels like it’s just about hate and violence.”
“We may disagree on what forms of dissent are appropriate and what the proper forums are to voice them, but the important thing is that we come together and defend the right to dissent at all,” Haas continued.
One student, identified only as Jessica, summed up the happenings succinctly to WBRZ. In America, you fight free speech with free speech.
“I guess they would assume they’ve succeeded, but both sides succeeded because the American dream was met, free speech was seen on both sides and that’s really what the entire thing was about,” she said.
CORRECTION: This post originally depicted the events described as occurring last week. They took place in 2011.
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