Politics & Government

The flag is gone, but the debate continues: What constitutes a ‘desecrated’ flag?

How a controversial flag came to KU and KC

An artist’s version of the American flag was designed to point out the divisions in our country. After a flood of criticism, KU removed its copy of the flag. But an arts nonprofit in KC’s Crossroads continues to fly this flag.
Up Next
An artist’s version of the American flag was designed to point out the divisions in our country. After a flood of criticism, KU removed its copy of the flag. But an arts nonprofit in KC’s Crossroads continues to fly this flag.

An altered U.S. flag is no longer flying as part of an art exhibit at the University of Kansas, but the battle over it continued Thursday.

Gov. Jeff Colyer ordered additional U.S. flags flown on the Statehouse grounds following Wednesday’s controversy, spokesman Kendall Marr confirmed.

The governor’s Twitter account posted photos of the flags and the message: “Meanwhile at the State Capitol we fly the flag proudly.”



Secretary of State Kris Kobach, in a column published on Breitbart.com, said the controversy illustrated “the left-wing tilt of college campuses.” He demanded that the altered flag not be displayed at the Spencer Museum of Art, where university officials said they planned to relocate the exhibit.

“I think it should be removed altogether,” said Kobach, who is running for governor. “The notion that a public institution supported by taxpayer money is voluntarily displaying this is really disturbing.”

The piece — “Untitled (Flag 2),” by German-born artist Josephine Meckseper — is part of a public art project called “Pledges of Allegiance” being displayed at KU and a dozen other locations nationwide. It features an American flag combined with a black-dripped painting resembling the outline of a divided United States.

In addition to the abstract shapes, the flag also shows a small black-and-white sock, which is meant to represent “the recent imprisonment of immigrant children at the border,” according to the artist.

The flag was no longer flying on campus late Wednesday afternoon, capping a day of outrage and counter-outrage over the exhibit. KU said it would relocate the piece to the Spencer Museum, but didn’t indicate when or whether it would be on public display.

Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, KU’s director for news and media relations, said in an e-mail Thursday that the flag was “being relocated to the museum.

“The specific location is being determined,” she added.

On social media, some accused Kobach of being inconsistent about flag guidelines, pointing to a parade earlier this summer where Kobach waved from an American-flag-colored jeep with a replica machine gun mounted to it.

Others noted that some Kobach supporters have displayed the so-called “Thin Blue Line” flag during parades and other events. That flag — a black-and-white version of the U.S. flag with a bright blue horizontal stripe across its midsection — is promoted to honor men and women in law enforcement.

Kobach said he believes the U.S. Flag Code, which dictates when and how the flag should be displayed, allows for stars-and-stripes decorations such as on clothing or vehicles, and even the “thin blue line” version.

“I don’t think it’s a fine distinction at all. It’s a very big distinction,” he said. “You can’t take the American flag — the one we would all recognize as a normal American flag, as displayed — and then desecrate it. . . . And that’s what happened here.”

Thursday afternoon, the National Coalition Against Censorship, released a statement urging Colyer and Kobach to “cease their attempts to chill free speech at a public university.”

“The use of U.S. flags in artworks is a form of speech that enjoys full protection under the U.S. Constitution. Rather, it is the removal of this work that threatens our closely held civil liberties,” the group said. “As government officials, it is your duty to uphold the First Amendment, which protects controversial or unpopular speech, including works of artistic expression.”

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach rides in a Jeep mounted with a replica gun in the Old Shawnee Days Parade on Saturday, June 2, 2018.

  Comments