By Guy Page
Headliners reported this week that House Judiciary Chair Maxine Grad banged the gavel against people waving small American flags at a gun bill hearing because, she said, waving banners is prohibited at Statehouse public hearings. This drew a quick email response from recently retired Capitol security officer Pat Finnie of Calais:
I served as a Security Officer there for almost 15 years, and that is not factual. As part of my duty there I checked attendees at events such as budget addresses, Inaugurations, same sex marriage hearings, etc. for contraband, and posters/banners, and if they were bigger than 8.5 X 11 inches they were not allowed, smaller that that and they were allowed! Those Flags were 4″ X 6″. Further more personally I took exception to our flag being referred to as a “banner”. The Red Sox have banners. Our country has a flag! My Father and three Uncles served in WWII to protect our Country, Citizens, Constitution, and the Flag of the United States of America, not the Banner of the United States of America.
Judging by the flood of emails and Facebook comments, Pat Finnie is not the only reader who responded emphatically to the chair’s efforts to prohibit flag waving.
Perhaps the dignity of the House would have been better served if House Judiciary had warned specifically against flag-waving. Just a few days earlier pro-gun rights advocates had silently waved flags at a public hearing in Randolph. There were no complaints. If House Judiciary and its chair had a problem with such behavior, it could have been anticipated and addressed.
But to many hearing attendees and after-the-fact Headliners readers, something more important than decorum is at stake. It’s our American right to wave the flag as an expression of free speech. If it’s legal and accepted speech to burn Old Glory in protest, or for Colin Kaepernick to kneel rather than stand for the National Anthem, shouldn’t it be okay to sit quietly and silently wave a 4″ x 6″ flag? And if government says the answer is ‘no,’ what’s next?
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.