State officials react to UCI flag controversy with constitutional amendment


State lawmakers Monday announced plans to introduce an amendment to California’s constitution that would bar state-funded colleges and universities from banning the American flag on school property.

The announcement comes two days after a five-member executive cabinet overseeing UC Irvine’s student government vetoed a move to ban the display of all flags, including the American flag, in an area of the campus.

The constitutional amendment will be introduced Wednesday, according to a statement issued by the office of state Sen. Janet Nguyen (R-Garden Grove).

Nguyen, a UCI graduate, said in the statement that the amendment is meant “to ensure that the American flag is proudly displayed at public universities and colleges throughout California.”

If passed by the state Legislature, the constitutional amendment would require voters’ approval. The amendment could go on a statewide ballot in November 2016, according to the statement.

Co-sponsors are Senate Republican leader Bob Huff, Assembly Republican leader Kristin Olsen, state Sens. Pat Bates, Jim Nielsen, Jeff Stone, Mike Morrell and Jean Fuller, and Assembly members Matt Harper, Don Wagner and Bill Brough.

The UCI executive cabinet explained its position in a statement Saturday.

“We fundamentally disagree with the actions taken by [Associated Students of] UCI Legislative Council and their passage of [the ban] as counter to the ideals that allow us to operate as an autonomous student government organization with the freedoms of speech and expression associated with it,” the cabinet said.

“It is these very symbols that represent our constitutional rights … and our ability to openly debate all ranges of issues and pay tribute to how those liberties were attained.”

A student resolution adopted Thursday by the school’s legislative council had called for removing all flags from the common lobby area of student government offices.

The resolution, written by student Matthew Guevara of the School of Social Ecology, stated that “the American flag has been flown in instances of colonialism and imperialism” and noted that flags “construct paradigms of conformity and sets homogenized standards.”

The resolution passed on a 6-4 vote by the student legislative council, with two abstentions.

On Saturday, UC Irvine issued a statement saying the student government vote was “misguided.”

“This misguided decision was not endorsed or supported in any way by the campus leadership, the University of California or the broader student body,” according to the UCI statement. “The views of a handful of students passing a resolution do not represent the opinions of the nearly 30,000 students on this campus and have no influence on the policies and practices of the university. The American flag is still proudly flying throughout our campus and will continue to do so.”

Writing on UC Irvine’s Associated Students Facebook page, student body President Reza Zomorrodian said he opposed the resolution.

“Though I understand the authors’ intent and supporters’ intent,” he wrote, “I disagree with the solution council has come to.”

The school’s legislative council now has the option to override the veto by passing the measure with a two-thirds majority.

However, writing on the student government Facebook page, three members of the legislative council who voted for the flag ban said they support the executive council’s veto. The three wrote that they “deeply apologize for neglecting to consider the greater implications of our actions.”

They said the flag ban was meant to resolve a conflict that began in January after an anonymous member of UCI’s Assocated Students hung the American flag outside student government offices.

“Over the ensuing month, other students who became involved would continuously take the flag down,” the students, Matthew Tsai, Negar Fatahi and Naty Rico, wrote on Facebook. “The conflict eventually escalated to the point where a number of students brought the matter to legislative council. It was our intention to resolve the problem for our fellow ASUCI members by reverting things to the way they were before the dispute began, when the common space had no flags present and there was no surrounding conflict.”