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Students lower flag in election protest

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Students lowered the flag as a symbolic action

The decision led to protests

CNN  — 

The American flag is flying again at Hampshire College in Massachusetts.

The school decided to raise the flag to full staff Friday, after it was first lowered to half staff and then removed from campus as emotions ran high after the presidential election.

School president Jonathan Lash said the decision to stop flying the flag was not political but an attempt to bring about a dialogue on the flag’s meaning.

“We acted solely to facilitate much-needed dialogue on our campus about how to dismantle the bigotry that is prevalent in our society,” Lash said in a statement. “We understand that many who hold the flag as a powerful symbol of national ideals and their highest aspirations for the country – including members of our own community – felt hurt by our decisions, and that we deeply regret.”

Last weekend a group of veterans, organized in part by local lawmaker John Velis, protested the school’s decision. Velis had called for another protest this weekend if the flag wasn’t back on campus.

Lash said the school, a liberal arts institution of about 1,400 students in Amherst, now raises the flag “as a symbol of that freedom, and in hopes for justice and fairness for all.”

How things happened

A day after the presidential election, the school sided with students who lowered the American flag to half-staff to protest Donald Trump’s victory.

The administration wanted to build student rapport and facilitate discussion on what the flag represents, but the move angered some people in the Amherst community.

Then, after someone set the campus’ US flag on fire on November 10, the college decided to do away with flying the American flag, at least temporarily.

For Veterans Day on November 11, college officials replaced the burned US flag and flew one full-staff.

The next day, Hampshire trustees voted to lower the banner to half-staff again, to continue the campus discussion on the flag’s meaning.

Flying the flag at half-staff “was meant as an expression of grief over the violent deaths being suffered in this country and globally, including the many U.S. service members who have lost their lives,” President Jonathan Lash said.

Lash regretted the college taking that action as it caused some “unintentional distress” over a traditional expression of mourning, school spokesman John Courtmanche told CNN.

What are the laws behind flags?

The US President tells the executive branch when to fly the flag half-staff, but it’s not a must-do for private individuals, says USA.gov, a government website.

“A local community, a company, a school district, or a federal agency can decide to have all of their flags at half-staff because of the death of an employee, a student, a mayor, or a local police officer,” the site explains.

Hampshire College’s flying the US flag half-staff was intended to “create the space for meaningful and respectful dialogue across the many perspectives represented in our community,” says Lash.

As for the flag burning, US flag desecration has angered people in the past.

In 1989, Congress passed a law against setting a US flag on fire.

But the Supreme Court the following year halted the law’s enforcement, saying the law violated the Constitution’s First Amendment.

In this case, the Hampshire College’s flag belonged to the school so charges for property destruction may apply.

Other flag issues

Last year, student leaders at the University of California, Irvine, a public institution, vetoed a resolution prohibiting flags of any nation from being displayed in the lobby of student government offices.

While Hampshire College officials led the initiative to take down all flags, the administration at UCI distanced itself from the student-led action publicly.

In September, Occidental College in Los Angeles investigated the vandalism of a 9/11 memorial on campus after US flags used in a display were tossed in the trash.

And, earlier this month, students burned a US flag on the campus of American University in Washington, D.C. after the presidential election.

Critics of Hampshire College’s actions say flying the flag half-staff has partisan undertones, Lash said.

“Some have perceived the action of lowering the flag as a commentary on the results of the presidential election – this, unequivocally, was not our intent,” he said.