Administrators at the University of Dayton, a Catholic college in Ohio, are refusing to remove a charred American flag, arguing the burnt symbol — which they described as "modified" — is an "art installation" protected by freedom of speech.
Several students and alumni were frustrated by the display, which appeared two days after the election and was hung by an unknown individual along with the phrase, "We will move forward." But the University of Dayton is standing by the controversial display:
Although we understand that some will disagree or be offended by an art installation involving the flag, courts have long held that, when the flag is used to convey an idea, such usage is protected by the exercise of free speech, a principle essential to American Democracy and civic life. One of our country’s most cherished freedoms is that right to free speech, which has special value in artistic contexts.
After seeing the burnt flag, one student told WRGT-TV that she has "never been this upset in my entire life."
"It's almost embarrassing to me," another student said.
Other students and alumni weighed in on Twitter.
A defaced American flag was hung as an "art" exhibit at the University of Dayton, so I added some art of my own. https://t.co/n9mA26ApiN— hannah rose (@hannah rose)1479356791.0
One student in particular took issue with the fact that the university decided to classify the scorched flag as an "art installation." In a lengthy letter, which he posted to Twitter, AJ Conway wrote, "I find it particularly troublesome that the university is allowing the desecration of the American flag, of which I had family fight for, who's coffins were draped with, and classifying it as art."
@univofdayton @DaytonPrezSpina PLEASE READ THIS. I know you wont and you will send out the copied and pasted reply… https://t.co/PhaJfQ5PEN— AJ Conway (@AJ Conway)1479363074.0
Nevertheless, according to Heat Street, Paul Benson, the university's provost, defended the display as a legitimate form of artistic expression.
In an additional statement posted to the college's Twitter account, the University of Dayton said it is allowing students to post "reactions ... in the large space immediately adjacent to the flag."
"All voices are invited and are able to express their views freely, and the statements posted on the wall reflect a wide range of reactions and opinions," the statement noted.
— University of Dayton (@univofdayton) November 16, 2016