Students at UC Irvine learned valuable lessons last week after the student council passed a misguided resolution banning flag displays in its lobby. Among them: Don't mess with Old Glory. Policymaking has real-world effects. And, perhaps most important, don't be surprised if the so-called grown-ups overreact.
The language in Resolution 50-70, passed by the Associated Students UCI Legislative Council, was silly in an immature and academic sort of way. The American flag, and all other flags, should be banned from the lobby, it said, because they "construct cultural mythologies and narratives that in turn charge nationalistic sentiments" and they "construct paradigms of conformity and set homogenized standards." The U.S. flag was singled out for criticism because it has flown "in instances of colonialism and imperialism."
The resolution concluded by suggesting that flying a flag of any nation in the lobby could be the equivalent of hate speech.
An uproar ensued. The executive council of the Associated Students immediately and appropriately recognized the absurdity (and unpopularity) of this resolution and vetoed it. Problem solved: The system of legislative checks and balances did its job. The flag would remain. Hooray for democracy.
That should have been the end of the story. And it would have been, despite the usual Internet-fueled flaming of the students, if not for state Sen. Janet Nguyen (R-Santa Ana), a UCI alumna. On Monday, flanked by military veterans and, of course, American flags, she proposed a state constitutional amendment that would ban flag banning at California's publicly funded institutions of higher education. Describing the American flag as a beacon to her and her family after they fled communism in Vietnam, she noted, without irony, that her intention is to stop any student from ever questioning the placement of the flag in a taxpayer-funded institution.
Perhaps Nguyen could be written off as an overzealous freshman legislator seeking to make a mark in Sacramento. But otherwise sensible GOP legislators such as Senate Republican leader Robert Huff of Diamond Bar and new Assembly minority leader Kristin Olsen of Modesto lent their names to Nguyen's unnecessary proposal, giving the proposal legitimacy. A number of other GOP legislators also support it.
This publicity stunt could conceivably make real law, which would be a grave overreaction. It reminds us of what 11 Muslim UCI students experienced in 2011 when they were criminally prosecuted by Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas for heckling and interrupting a speech by the Israeli ambassador. They were wrong, but not that wrong.
If and when this flag-ban banning bill is introduced, it should suffer the same fate as the resolution that prompted it. Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) should act as responsibly as the executive student council by not allowing the state's Constitution to be altered for such foolishness.