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Valdosta Mayor Designates Thursday As Flag Day

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Posted at 12:21 PM, Apr 23, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-23 12:21:00-04

VALDOSTA, Ga. (WTXL)--The mayor of Valdosta has designated Thursday as Flag Day.

Mayor John Gayle is asking people to display the American Flag at their homes and businesses.

He says he declares every day Flag Day in Valdosta to show "unwavering support for our flag, our country, and our freedom."

Here is his full perspective:

Recent events have shed a negative light on our community concerning the mistreatment of the American flag. The mistreatment of this important symbol that brings us together as a people can spark emotions that sever the very ties that bind us. For this reason, I want to address the issue and remind citizens of this community, and those across our nation, that the Valdosta community stands in strong support of our military, our nation's flag, and the freedom that both represent.

Valdosta is proud to be the home of Moody Air Force Base, a base initiated by an offer of support from then Mayor J.D. Ashley and the City Council of Valdosta, along with other community leaders, to support their country during a time of war. Over the years, thousands of men and women have been embraced for their service and sacrifice. In fact, I had the privilege to be a part of an entire weekend focused on honoring our military-which included a meeting with the Air Force Chief of Staff on Friday afternoon, enjoying the company of former Moody Wing Commanders on Friday evening, and honoring Moody personnel at the Red Carpet event on Saturday night.

Nothing is more important than love of country and our support of those who risk their lives so that we may enjoy the freedoms that some take for granted. There is nothing free about freedom. There is a price to pay. Each life that serves and each life that has been lost in service demonstrates to all the high price of a free country.

For this reason, it disappoints me when I see acts of disrespect for our American flag. I ponder why any American would deliberately walk on the flag and show such disrespect for our nation's symbol and the freedoms we enjoy because of it.

In saying that, we must also recognize our nation's founding principles, one of which is freedom of speech and expression. The men and women who fought for the flag, and in many cases gave their lives, did so to ensure we can all live in a country where freedom-to include freedom of speech-is a core principle, even when that speech may not always be popular. This is why people flock to our great country every year, to escape tyranny and governments who censor and punish their own citizens for simply making a point.

Our flag is truly the symbol of our country, but it is the idea of freedom supported by law which ensures that our flag means something. I think it is important that citizens understand the laws and the limitation that governmental agencies have in limiting free speech, what the Supreme Court has ruled, and who can and should change the laws of the country to prevent desecration of our flag.

I understand the outrage over the incident at Valdosta State University (VSU), as I cherish our American flag. This was a very difficult case for the VSU Police Department or anyone in law enforcement to handle-one in which no one can win and where both opposing parties are either correct by law or principle. But we should also understand that differences of opinion are what the flag and our country stand for, and we should also respect the right of law and balance that with our personal feelings.

There have also been some suggestions of a violation of law based on walking on the American flag. The Federal Code many people are referencing has been ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court, and our Congress has yet to change it to make it enforceable. The current federal law is a US code which was initiated in 1968 based on flag burning and other desecration activities in protest of the Vietnam War. But since then, the US Supreme Court has ruled several times that acts-similar to those demonstrated by the protestors at VSU-fall within their freedom of speech. In saying this, I don't like it when someone desecrates the American flag. But I will also tell you that many have fought to ensure you, I, and everyone else has the right to live in a country where we can have free speech.

The timeline below has some important information regarding our nation's laws on this matter.

Timeline:

1968: Adoption of Federal Flag Desecration Law (18 U.S.C. 700 et seq.) - Congress approved the first federal flag desecration law in the wake of a highly publicized Central Park flag burning incident in protest of the Vietnam War. The federal law made it illegal to "knowingly" cast "contempt" upon "any flag of the United States by publicly mutilating, defacing, defiling, burning or trampling upon it." The law defined flag in an expansive manner similar to most States.

1989: Texas v. Johnson (491 U.S. 397) - The Supreme Court upheld the Texas Court of Criminal appeals finding that Texas law - making it a crime to "desecrate" or otherwise "mistreat" the flag in a way the "actor knows will seriously offend one or more persons" - was unconstitutional as applied. This was the first time the Supreme Court had directly considered the applicability of the First Amendment to flag burning.

In a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Brennan, the Court first found that burning the flag was a form of symbolic speech subject to protection under the First Amendment. The Court also determined that under United States v. O'Brien, 391 U.S. 367 (1968), since the State law was related to the suppression of freedom of expression, the conviction could only be upheld if Texas could demonstrate a "compelling" interest in its law. The Court next found that Texas' asserted interest in "protecting the peace" was not implicated under the facts of the case. Finally, while the Court acknowledged that Texas had a legitimate interest in preserving the flag as a "symbol of national unity," this interest was not sufficiently compelling to justify a "content based" legal restriction (i.e., the law was not based on protecting the physical integrity of the flag in all circumstances, but was designed to protect it from symbolic protest likely to cause offense to others).

1989: Revision of Federal Flag Desecration Statute - Pursuant to the Flag Protection Act of 1989, Congress amended the 1968 federal flag desecration statute in an effort to make it "content neutral" and conform to the Constitutional requirements of Johnson. As a result, the 1989 Act sought to prohibit flag desecration under all circumstances by deleting the statutory requirement that the conduct cast contempt upon the flag and narrowing the definition of the term "flag" so that its meaning was not based on the observation of third parties.

1990: United States v. Eichman (496 U.S. 310) - Passage of the Flag Protection Act resulted in a number of flag burning incidents protesting the new law. The Supreme Court overturned several flag burning convictions brought under the Flag Protection Act of 1989. The Court held that notwithstanding Congress' effort to adopt a more content neutral law, the federal law continued to be principally aimed at limiting symbolic speech.

1990: Rejection of Constitutional Amendment - Following the Eichman decision, Congress considered and rejected a Constitutional Amendment specifying that "the Congress and the States have the power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States." The amendment failed to muster the necessary two-thirds Congressional majorities, as it was supported by only a 254-177 margin in the House (290 votes were necessary) and a 58-42 margin in the Senate (67 votes were necessary).

I am proud to serve as the Mayor of a community that supports our military and does so with great patriotism and love. For this reason, I am designating this Thursday, April 23, as Flag Day in Valdosta, and I am asking all citizens to proudly display the American flag at their homes and businesses to show their support. Together, let us rally behind our flag and declare that EVERY DAY is Flag Day in Valdosta to show our unwavering support for our flag, our country and our freedom.

As your mayor, I vow to make every effort to address this current issue with our lawmakers in Washington. I am proud to be an American, proud to support our country, proud to defend our freedoms, proud to acknowledge the price that has been paid for those freedoms, and proud to serve as your Mayor.