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Flag flying stirs debate in New England town

American flag
The display of American flags has raised passions among residents of Amherst, Massachusetts.  

From Bill Delaney
CNN Boston Bureau

AMHERST, Massachusetts (CNN) -- As Americans embrace the U.S. flag in a show of defiance against terrorists, the red, white and blue has stirred up controversy in a New England town.

It started in August when the town of Amherst put up a set of 29 flags at the urging of a group of veterans. Around Labor Day, the flags came down.

Veterans said it was because of complaints, but town officials said the removal was always scheduled, pending a public debate and vote.

On September 10, the Select Board voted 4-1 to fly the flags on six specified holidays. Other flags fly year-round at the town common and the police and fire stations.

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During the debate, University of Massachusetts physics professor Jennie Traschen offered a controversial take on what the American flag means.

"It's a symbol of terrorism and death and fear and destruction and repression," she told the Select Board.

In the wake of the terrorist hijackings the next day, a group quickly put the flags back up.

"It just meant to me -- the battle's here -- what can I do here?" said Amherst flag supporter David Keenan, who said Traschen's remarks angered him.

"What country would allow a person to be able to say those things against their country?" Keenan asked.

This country would, Traschen's defenders said.

Even veteran Rod Raubeson, who first dreamed up raising the flags in his often left-leaning town, said he is opposed to attacking someone who's uncomfortable with the red, white and blue.

"My goodness, the very idea that they could dissent and have an opposite opinion is protected by the very banner that they're telling me they're frightened of," he said.

For now, the flags will stay up until Veterans Day.

"It's a recognition of the fact that people in Amherst have lost friends and family in the attacks on the United States," Town Manager Barry Del Castilho said.


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• Town of Amherst, Massachusetts

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