Veteran takes flag from protestors, sets off free speech debate

University says free expression must be protected

Valdosta State University cancelled classes on Friday as hundreds of protestors flocked to the campus in protests over the proper treatment of an American flag.

Veteran removes flag walked on by protestors

In a video of the April 17th incident, a group of protestors is seen walking on American flag. A woman named Michelle Manhart, an Air Force veteran, took the flag from protestors and can be heard saying "this belongs actually to the entire United States."

A protestor in the video then replies the flag actually belongs to her and tells the police it should be taken away from Manhart. Ultimately, police detained Manhart when she did not comply. They also returned the flag to the protestors.

Touching a national nerve

The incident earned significant local media attention and eventually led to the mass counter-protest on Friday. Dozens of protestors rode through the campus on motorcycles chanting "U.S.A.," reports Matt Belanger of Atlanta's WSB-TV.

According to some media reports, as many as 1,000 people came to campus in protest on Friday.

According to a Facebook group that promoted the counter protest, the group was demonstrating to show "that we will not waiver in standing up for [our] nation, our flag, or our soldiers."

Protecting free expression

Valdosta State banned Manhart from campus following the incident. In a letter to campus, university president William McKinney said the school supported military veterans, but also championed free expression.

"While we respect the strong feelings held by many regarding our nation and its symbols, we also respect the rights of our students, faculty, and staff to express themselves through constitutionally protected symbolic expression in an environment that encourages, rather than discourages, civil debate," McKinney wrote (Peralta, "The Two-Way," NPR, 4/24; McKay, Reuters, 4/24).

The takeaway: One Georgia university cancelled classes Friday as hundreds of protestors came to campus in protest of an incident on campus that involved police protecting a group of protestors walking on an American flag.


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