A “violent threat” led UC Irvine officials to cancel a planned UC Irvine student government debate Tuesday on a proposal to ban the display of flags in the organization’s offices.
Last week, six members of the student government’s legislative branch voted to ban display of any country’s flags. Four voted against it, two abstained and the rest of the 17-member body was absent.
On Saturday, the executive branch of the student government voted 4-1 to veto the legislation. That action set up today’s now-scuttled meeting to discuss overriding the veto, which would take a two-thirds majority of the legislative branch.
UCI officials characterized the threat as “viable,” and assured the public they were taking it “seriously,” but did not offer any details other than to say the threat “was not specific.”
Administration officials said student government leaders supported the cancellation of the meeting.
“The safety of our campus and its students, faculty and staff is and will always be our absolute, utmost concern,” UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman said. “There is no gray area when it comes to threats of violence; they will not be tolerated, and we cannot allow our community to be put at risk.
“Regardless of your opinion on the display of the American flag, we must be united in protecting the people who make this university a premier institution of higher learning,” he said. “Our campus must be a place for safe and civil discourse. We continue to call on everyone to condemn all harassment and threats of violence.”
On Monday, more than a half-dozenl Orange County Republican legislators announced their support for a constitutional amendment that would prohibit state-funded universities and colleges from banning the U.S. flag.
The lawmakers held a news conference to decry the ban, including Senate Republican leader Bob Huff, R-Brea, and Assembly Republican leader Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, along with Sens. Janet Nguyen, R-Santa Ana, and Patricia Bates, R-San Juan Capistrano, and Assemblymen Matt Harper, R-Costa Mesa, Don Wagner, R-Tustin, and Bill Brough, R-San Juan Capistrano.
“I came to this country as an immigrant searching for freedom and democracy and I would not be here today if it were not for the American flag,” Nguyen said.
Pointing to several veterans who attended the news conference, Nguyen said, “The veterans that are with us here today and the thousands of servicemen and women fighting throughout the world deserve for us to make every effort to ensure that the American flag is proudly displayed at public universities and colleges throughout California. That is why we have introduced this Senate Constitutional Amendment.”
Huff said the flag is “more than just the symbol for our country. It’s a reminder to all of us that the freedoms we enjoy in a society like ours are not free. They were bought and paid for by the sacrifice of others. The flag is a symbol of this freedom. Where this flag flies, freedom lives.”
Wagner noted that more than 2.5 million men and women have died in combat “to defend the American flag, and the values and ideals associated with it.”
Wagner’s opponent in a March 17 state Senate special election, former Supervisor John Moorlach, said he was supportive of the effort.
“This is what we do. We have the flag displayed, so when someone says, ‘Let’s not do that,’ it’s so counter-intuitive,” Moorlach told City News Service.
UC Irvine Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, who is a constitutional law expert, said the legislation would offer no legal obstacles.
“There’s no First Amendment issue,” Chemerinsky told CNS. “The state can decide that it wants the American flag in state buildings.”
In an online statement, Gillman condemned the move to ban the flags as “outrageous and indefensible.”
The student bill listed multiple reasons for banning the flags, including that they promote “nationalistic sentiments,” and characterized them as “cultural artifacts.”
The bill went on to state that “flags construct paradigms of conformity and (set) homogenized standards for others to obtain, which in this country typically are idolized as freedom, equality and democracy.”
The students also cited “American exceptionalism and superiority,” and said the country’s flag “has been flown in instances of colonialism and imperialism.”
The aim of the legislation appeared to be to foster a “culturally inclusive space” in the student government offices.
—Staff and wire reports