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:
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.