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Law of the West

There has been a recent controversy in Lakewood, Colo., that would seem to be giving seventh grade geography students and their teacher an unexpected lesson in civics run amuck.

The story reminds me of when I was sitting at my desk as a middle school student in Irondequoit, N.Y. Along the entire four walls of the classroom the Social Studies teacher had displayed the flags of the World. Of course, the American Flag was prominently displayed, right next to the text of the Pledge of Allegiance. Yet, if I recall correctly, there were some 40 or so flags on each wall. It set the theme for the classroom and the school year.

Well, up in Lakewood, Colo., a teacher decorated his classroom in much the same way. Randomly, he would select flags to display in his classroom and they were used to highlight and give emphasis to the geography lessons he was teaching.

Little did he know that he would run afoul of Colorado law. His school’s principal ordered him to remove the flags and he refused. The teacher was then placed on administrative leave. According to a number of news services, a compromise agreement has been reached between the teacher and the school. But, that really isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things. The important question is, “What on Earth is this flag law?”

Buried in the State’s Criminal Code, under Offenses Involving Disloyalty and the subheading of Anarchy and Sedition, one will find section 18-11-205, which has been on the books, it would seem, for 43 years or so. The law says that, “Any person who displays any flag other than the flag of the United States of America or the state of Colorado or any of its subdivisions, agencies or institutions upon any state, county, municipal, or other public building or adjacent grounds within this state commits a class 1 petty offense.” The law defines a flag as any symbol (flag, ensign, banner, standard, or colors) of a nation, state, movement, cause or organization.

Now there are a couple of exceptions: One would seem to apply to consulates and embassies; another goes to properly proclaimed ceremonial events; then there is an exception for jointly operated ports of entry; and, then an exception for temporary, non-permanently, affixed displays of historical or instructional materials.

The last of these exceptions would seem to have been of use to Mr. Hamlin, the Lakewood teacher. Perhaps the principal should return to school and study the law. But, more importantly is the effect this law has on practices that have been common place in our public venues.

How many public buildings, specifically those with a military connection, display the MIA flag? You know the one, the black flag with a white silhouette. That flag represents a cause, the full accountability of our missing soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. Flying that flag at a public building would appear to be a criminal act of anarchy and sedition in Colorado!

What of other banners? If you hold a rally for your cause on the Capitol steps ” properly permitted and all ” and wave the flag or banner of your organization, cause or movement, you are committing a criminal act.

Strictly speaking, if you come upon the Courthouse steps wearing a pink ribbon to show your support for breast cancer research or a red ribbon for the elimination of AIDS or any of the other “colors” of a cause, we are committing a criminal offense.

It would seem in their zeal to ensure that we all adhere to patriotic zeal and not engage in sedition, anarchy or disloyalty our Legislature forgot to remember about a little thing like Freedom of Speech and our First Amendment.

This law is just plan silly. It would seem to be an echo of the McCarthy Era of the ’50s. Such a law is a great example of cultural hegemony ” where a diverse culture can be ruled or dominated by a single group ” a concept ironically coined by Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci. Hopefully, one of our present elected representatives will put this on their plate for the next session of the Legislature.

Oh, and as for the geography question that I would assume every student in Eric Hamlin’s class would be able to answer, the answer, today, is … well, it depends. The UN says there are 192 Nations; the State Department claims there are 193 countries in the World; then there is Taiwan – perhaps 194? The World Almanac says 193. Wikipedia, a free on-line encyclopedia, says there are 243 countries in the World. (If you have the definitive answer, let me know.)

The information provided in this column is based upon general principles of law and should not be relied upon in any manner. It is not the intent of this column, its author, publisher or the Fence Post to provide legal advice to any person. You should address specific legal questions to your family lawyer. In Wyoming, the State Bar can refer you to competent lawyers in your community by calling (307) 634-7823. In Colorado, call the Metropolitan Lawyer Referral Service at (303) 831-8000. Readers in Nebraska can receive referrals from the State Bar Association by calling 1-800-742-3005.


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