Irvine council supports bid to enact flag law on state campuses

*This post has been corrected, as noted below.

When a student government committee at UC Irvine voted in March to ban flags of all nationalities — including the United States — from a common area on campus, the news quickly went viral and condemnation in the court of public opinion was swift.

Mostly outrage descended from citizen groups and political pundits from across the country, making UCI a focal point of debate on patriotism and free speech. The action voted on by a subcommittee of six student government leaders was not unanimous and was quickly vetoed by the student government executive council.

Nearly three months later, the issue is still echoing throughout the state and local governments with a proposed California constitutional amendment to prohibit banning the American flag on state-funded college campuses. Irvine City Council members voted Tuesday to support the effort being considered by legislators.

State Sen. Janet Nguyen, a Republican and UCI graduate whose 34th District covers North Orange County, introduced Senate Constitutional Amendment 2 shortly after the controversy erupted in March. The amendment proposes “the display of the flag of the United State of America shall not be prohibited on University of California, California State University, or California Community College campuses.”

The amendment is co-authored by state Sens. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) and Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar). In rallying support for the proposal, Nguyen sent a letter to Irvine city leaders requesting a vote of approval.

“To ban hanging the American flag, it was truly shameful,” said Mayor Steven Choi in raising the issue during the May 26 City Council meeting. “The flag is representing our country’s liberty, freedom, diversity and also unity. It’s a very important principle we’re dealing with.”

Debate during the meeting centered on the 1st Amendment rights. One public speaker, who identified himself as a proud UCI student, stated that while he did not agree with the original decision of the student leaders “the moment we censure somebody’s speech, the moment we say someone can’t say something we disagree with, it’s Big Brother.”

Correction: An early version of this post incorrectly identified Councilwoman Lynn Schott as Beth Schott.

“It was not to exhibit personal speech,” said Councilwoman Lynn Schott, countering the free-speech argument, “but it was in fact to impose their speech on the greater campus and in the building that’s owned by a host.”

“This ordinance doesn’t require the flag to be flown,” Schott added. “But it does prohibit banning the flag from being flown.”

Councilwoman Beth Krom said she would not support the measure because it is not a matter of municipal concern and suggested the amendment was an action of political grandstanding by Nguyen.

“We should be impressed that the students themselves, the larger governing body overruled and vetoed the decision,” Krom said. “I just don’t think this is an appropriate action for us to consider as a City Council.”

Support for the amendment passed by a 4-1 margin, with Krom the dissenting vote. Before reaching a vote in the state legislature, the amendment would first have to pass approval by the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments.