San Diego State forces students to take down American flag

Two students at San Diego State University have been threatened with expulsion for hanging American, Coast Guard, and Army flags from the balcony of their on-campus apartment.

Sophomore Cameron Box, an active duty member of the Coast Guard, and Junior Connor Fenwick, an aspiring U.S. Army officer, told ABC affiliate KGTV Monday that they had received a letter from the school informing them that the flags violate school policy, and that the infraction carries a maximum penalty of expulsion.

“We’re just being proud of what we're affiliated with,” Box protested. “They're trying to say it's a fire hazard, but it just doesn't make much sense.”

Fenwick agreed, calling the dispute a free speech issue and asking, “Why can't we have our First Amendment rights?”

After describing the specific policy being enforced, the letter notes that students found in violation of school policies “may be expelled, suspended, placed on probation, or given a lesser sanction.” It goes on to indicate that those repercussions are not currently being pursued, however, saying the students “are being issued a formal warning for this incident.”

Beth Chee, Media Relations Manager at SDSU, told Campus Reform that several residents of the housing complex were indeed asked to remove items from their balconies, and that those who failed to comply were issued written warnings, but said she could not discuss specifics related to any particular student.

“Any item, regardless of content, hanging from a balcony is considered a safety and security issue because of its potential to block visibility,” she explained, omitting any reference to fire hazards. “Students are free to express themselves any way they like inside their apartments, but nothing can be hung up outside. The safety and security of our students is our number one concern.”

SDSU’s on-campus living agreement does stipulate that “No items, except patio furniture designed for outdoor use, may be placed on balconies and patios,” and further specifies that “Hangings, partitions, or curtains of any type may not be used on balconies or patios.”

Box and Fenwick, however, contest the school’s interpretation, with Fenwick outlining their points in a petition addressed to California Gov. Jerry Brown and SDSU administrators.

For one thing, the petition claims, the dictionary definition of “furniture” refers to an ornamental purpose, which Fenwick argues the flags fulfill.

As for the prohibition against “hangings, partitions, or curtains,” he contends that the flags do not technically fall into any of those categories, because they are not being used to separate or divide an area (as a partition does), nor to shut out light or increase privacy (as a curtain is used for), and are not “hanging” because they are firmly affixed and do not easily move.

“In light of this information, no policies have been violated,” Fenwick asserts, speculating that true reason for banning the flags is not to promote safety, but rather because the university “lacks the moral backbone to support cases such as mine and is too lazy to deal with other students who may take offense to a flag being portrayed in a residential setting.”

Chee did not respond directly to Fenwick’s semantic contentions in an email to Campus Reform, merely stating that “The university has policies against hanging any item over balconies, regardless of their content, for a variety of reasons, including safety and security as well as aesthetics.”

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