Civil Liberties

Valdosta State Admins Side with Flag-Stompers Over Veteran. As They Should.

The First Amendment: It matters.


American flag

A veteran who interrupted a demonstration at Valdosta State University in Georgia was arrested and then released by campus police officers after she took an American flag away from protesters who were trampling it.

According to

Michelle Manhart, an Air Force veteran, said she was not planning to take the flag from the group, but she had heard about the group's recent campus demonstrations and wanted to take action.

"I did not want anything like this, but I got a call from a student who told me that the flag was on the ground, and they were walking on it," said Manhart. "I was just going over there to pick up the flag off the ground. I don't know what their cause is, but I went to pick it up because it doesn't deserve to be on the ground."

Manhart said she was taken into custody by VSU police officers who then returned the flag to the demonstrators. She admitted to The Valdosta Daily Times that she resisted arrest after seeing the flag being returned.

The group reportedly declined to press charges against Manhart. The officers attempting to detain her also declined to press charges for resisting.

Instead, Manhart was given a criminal trespass warning which effectively bans her from any university activity, including graduation and football games, said Andy Clark, vice president for enrollment, marketing and communications.

The demonstrators declined to identify their group to The Valdosta Daily Times or speak with a reporter about their cause, but they did engage VSU students in heated debate.

I suppose you could say the flag being trampled was triggering to Manhart? But since her right to not be offended is overriden by the protesters' right to engage in public advocacy, authorities made the correct decision when they stopped her. The university and its Board of Regents issues a statement in support of free speech—even when it involves flag stomping—and that seems justified, too.

I only wish that the conviction of university administrators was always so strong. Freedom of speech on campus includes the freedom not just to defile the American flag, but also to assert that abortion is murder, homosexuality is sinful, Israel is guilty of war crimes, all women lie about being raped, President Obama deserves a third term, or any other alarming, offensive, or distasteful idea. Students can benefit from hearing about different perspectives, even if those perspectives are mostly or entirely incorrect.

And yet all too many universities routinely cave-in to students' requests for censorship of offensive speakers, or take punitive action against community members for daring to engage in constitutionally-protected activities. Valdosta State, for instance, expelled a student in 2007 for protesting the construction of a new parking area that would have been named after the university's president. (The student sued, eventually winning a settlement against VSU and its president thanks to the help of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.)

The First Amendment: It's not just for flag stompers.