Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Displaying the flag: Is there such a thing as going too far?

Posted by sanityinjection on May 27, 2009

Submitted for your consideration: The case of Ms. Debbie McLucas, a hospital supervisor from Texas. McLucas hung an American flag in her workplace and had it taken down after some people complained:

http://cbs11tv.com/local/patriotism.at.office.2.1020415.html

This is an interesting case. In general, I am supportive of the right to display the American flag. For example, some states have passed laws to prevent condominium associations from prohibiting owners from flying the US flag. However, it’s also reasonable for an employer to set limits on personal or political expression in a workplace, especially in a shared space, or when other workers are made uncomfortable by it.

One might well ask why anyone living in America would find the American flag to be offensive given the values it represents. Then again, you don’t always know what the back story is. For example, suppose (solely for the purposes of hypothetical illustration) Ms. McLucas had a history of making anti-immigrant remarks in the presence of a foreign-born colleague, and after an unfriendly exchange between the two, decided to hang the flag as a way of saying, “America for Americans.” In such a case, it’s not hard to see how the display of the flag could be taken as a direct provocation. (Again, I have heard no suggestion of any such motive on Ms. McLucas’ part in real life. Rather, it would appear to be a straightforward expression of patriotism with an emphasis on honoring America’s military veterans.)

The photo accompanying the story clearly shows that this is a rather large flag for an indoor office space. Thus, the hospital is now falling back on the pretense that the size of the flag was the only issue, which is obviously not the case. But arguably the hospital would be within its rights to limit the size of any office display, so they feel they are on safer ground there.

It seems to me that it is unfortunate if co-workers a) feel they cannot speak openly with each other about behavior that makes them uncomfortable, and b) would not be sensitive to their co-workers’ concerns. However, it’s also unfortunate for any American to view the flag as a symbol that they cannot embrace.

 Bottom line: The workplace is not intended as a vehicle for the personal expression of employees – however noble that expression may be. When that expression starts causing disruption in the workplace, the employer has the right (and indeed the duty) to address the issue.

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4 Responses to “Displaying the flag: Is there such a thing as going too far?”

  1. Jason said

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with the lady displaying a flag in her office. But, overly displaying the flag, while still should not be offensive to anyone, may be a bit silly.

    “Ms. McLucas had a history of making anti-immigrant remarks in the presence of a foreign-born colleague, and after an unfriendly exchange between the two, decided to hang the flag as a way of saying, “America for Americans.” In such a case, it’s not hard to see how the display of the flag could be taken as a direct provocation.”

    Sanity, nothing l have read reflected anything like that at all. I know it was a hypothetical on your part, but to even consider it as a possibility is wrong. That seems to be the knee-jerk reaction, indeed, the image that anti-American Americans conjure up — the rabid, nationalistic, insensitive rube goose stepping under a banner of flags.

    The lady is proud of her country and wanted to display the American flag in America. If the coworker that immigrated from Africa is offended by that she can always go back to where she came from. The attacks and compromises on patriotism and respect for our country is reaching a breaking point. The mere thought that flying the American flag in America could be offensive is absurd.

  2. Jason said

    “That seems to be the knee-jerk reaction, indeed, the image that anti-American Americans conjure up — the rabid, nationalistic, insensitive rube goose stepping under a banner of flags.”

    I wasn’t putting you in that category by the way. I was just pointing out that is the image that is often portrayed by them. So we mustn’t be influenced and automatically assume anything about this person other than the fact she wanted to display the flag.

  3. sanityinjection said

    I was just trying to imagine a situation in which the display of the flag could reasonably be construed as an offensive gesture. I certainly agree that it would be ridiculous to assume that such a scenario is a likely possibility in the absence of any evidence.

  4. Ms. D said

    “She can always go back to where she came from . . . ” Really?? I mean, REALLY?? On the contrary, people who CANNOT go back to where they came from still deserve to have their feelings recognized. As sanity said, you may never know why that woman from Africa had the offended feelings that she did, but we can’t just dismiss them as ridiculous and tell her to go home if she doesn’t like it here. In 2009, I would hope (no, pray) that we are past the point of telling someone they can go back if they don’t like it here. I’m not siding with her by any means, nor the woman who hung the over sized flag in the office, but surely we need to consider everyone’s feelings, even if on the surface they may seem absurd. I think sanity’s point is very on-target, when we begin to think that putting up a patriotic symbol is more important than the people for whom the symbol is intended.

    Anyway, sanity, since you have posted another article that is literally in my backyard, I feel it is my patriotic obligation to take my ruler, drive 20 minutes to Mansfield and measure every American flag in the district. And if someone goes over, man, oh man, they are going dooooooown. 🙂

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