The American flag is not a pawn to be used in a personal disagreement.

And yet that is apparently what is happening in Montrose.

Each Friday, local resident Bill Dodson — who has been the caretaker of the Montrose Vietnam War Memorial for several years — takes the American flag at the memorial down for the duration of the weekly Montrose Peace Vigil in protest against the vigil. He and others are apparently upset that the peace vigil holds its rally at the corner of Ocean View Boulevard and Honolulu Avenue just a few feet away from the memorial for fallen service members, claiming it is disrespectful.

While Dodson's commitment to the site is admirable and appreciated, using the American flag to punish them for speaking out is wrong.

The American flag should be treated with dignity and respect and in accordance with proper flag etiquette.

You can despise this vigil. You can protest against it, as many are doing. You can think it the most vile, unpatriotic thing in the world. But you can't take away the vigil participants' right to gather under the flag.

In fact, it does not matter what side of the war debate you are on, what political persuasion you side with, the flag should fly without regard to your politics — as a symbol of a united nation, not one for certain people. It reminds us that even in our national disagreements, we are “one nation .?.?. indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

If that flag was Dodson's property, or, if during his years taking care of the memorial, he took it down every evening, he might have some firm ground to stand on.

But that is not the case.

Since a light was installed to shine on the flag at night several years ago, there has been no need to take the flag down — as called for in the U.S. Flag Code — and Dodson has apparently followed suit, only bringing it down when called for maintenance or when ordered by elected leaders, for instance.

Until now.

And yet, it is not totally clear whose flag it is. Many flags over the years have been donated to the memorial since it was created by private donations in 1968.

The Montrose Shopping Park Assn. sets aside money in its budget for upkeep of the memorial.

The memorial and its are in a city right-of-way, and city crews take care of the grass around the site and pressure-clean the area.

And Dodson's actions have prompted the city attorney to look into this question of who has authorityover the site, and that is not an insignificant question.

The answer should yield who has this authority to allow or prohibit anyone from taking down a flag that flies over a rally or vigil for peace.

The consequences of remaining ambiguous on this question go to the heart of civil liberties in this nation.

Montrose Peace Vigil members chose the memorial's corner precisely because of the memorial and the veterans that it honors — and for the hope that today's troops will not be put in harm's way under the wrong circumstances.

Counter protesters see the peace vigil as wrong on a corner dedicated to the memories of those who gave their lives for their country.

Both have every right to say it.

But they both have a right to say it under the flag as their ally. Anything less is not only stealing the flag, but chipping away at the very heart of freedom of speech in America, and the very symbol that defends it.

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