Student protests college flag policy

Sunday, October 26, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- A Saint Louis University student wishing to display a U.S. flag on the balcony of his campus apartment is protesting a school policy forbidding the practice.

Nicholas Payne, a senior, wrote his congressman, Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, asking him to intervene and keep the university from making him remove the flag. Payne claimed he bought more than 50 U.S. flags following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, keeping one to display on his balcony.

The university, citing a policy from its student handbook, had demanded Payne remove the flag from the balcony, but agreed Friday to re-examine the issue.

The policy states that nothing is to be hung from balconies or patios.

In his letter to Chabot, Payne claimed a university employee approached him shortly after the flag was in place in 2001 to request it be taken down. Payne refused and said he never heard anything more about the flag until the university sent a written reprimand earlier this month.

The employee is no longer with the university.

University spokesman Jeff Fowler said the university would allow Payne to fly the flag until it could evaluate whether the situation was handled appropriately. When the university employee did not follow up the initial warning, Fowler said Payne may have inferred that he was permitted to keep the flag.

"We need to find out exactly what transpired," Fowler said.

Rev. Lawrence Biondi, president of Saint Louis University, in a letter to Chabot on Friday, said the policy was intended "to assure an atmosphere advantageous to all ideas and belief systems, an appearance of cleanliness and avoidance of a cluttered appearance."

Biondi also said all university policies are intended to ensure a "friendly and safe" atmosphere for students. He said numerous flags are displayed on campus.

"I can assure you that this policy was not conceived, and is not enforced, to discredit the American flag and that for which it stands, including all those who have shed their blood on our behalf," Biondi wrote.

Fowler said the policy would also help prevent the school from being held liable if an item fell off a university-owned balcony and injured a pedestrian below.

Chabot said patriotic citizens are too often singled out, and individuals like Payne should be encouraged, not chastised, for their respect for the flag.

"This is a basic freedom of speech issue," Chabot said. "Americans have a right to protest U.S. policy, but they also have a right to support it."

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