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Source: Philadelphia Daily News
Date: February 19, 2012
Byline: Steve Pardo

Dad of fallen Michigan soldier burns N.J. flag to protest Houston tribute

Wyoming, Mich. — A Michigan man whose son was killed while on patrol in Iraq in 2005 burned the New Jersey flag on his outdoor grill in protest after learning flags in that state were ordered flown at half-staff for the death of Whitney Houston.

John Burri said lowering of flags should be for those who have given their lives for their country.

"It was a slap in the face. It cheapens the meaning of lowering that flag," said Burri, 60. "They're watering down the meaning of a hero."

Burri traveled to Flags Unlimited in nearby Grand Rapids and bought a New Jersey flag — just so he could burn it.

"It was $12.95 and it was the best money I ever spent," he said.

While the move might spark patriotic furor, it isn't illegal.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has decided in a few cases that the burning of the flag of the United States is, although offensive to many, still considered constitutionally protected speech, and therefore those decisions would apply to the burning of a flag of any given state," said Larry Dubin, a University of Detroit Mercy law professor.

Burri slammed the flag in his trunk and drove it home, but first he passed through a veterans memorial park in Wyoming, where there's a brick with his son's name on it in his honor.

"I didn't do this to offend the people of New Jersey," he said. "If I did and you're offended, I'm sorry. But I did this because it was wrong and it was to show the governor (of New Jersey) how wrong this was."

His son, Army Spc. Eric T. Burri, died June 7, 2005, while on duty in Iraq. Burri, 21 of Wyoming, south of Grand Rapids, was killed when an improvised explosive device went off near his vehicle in Baghdad.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm ordered flags to be lowered on June 15, 2005, for one day in honor of his service.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was criticized for his decision to order flags to be flown at half-staff. In published reports on Wednesday, he defended his decision.

Christie said Houston was a "cultural icon" who was a source of pride to New Jersey residents.

Granholm absorbed criticism of her own in 2003 after she decreed that flags be lowered for every Michigan soldier killed in the line of duty. Defenders of the U.S. Flag Code said she went too far. The national flag code, adopted in 1942, says the flag shall be flown at half-staff by order of the president " ... upon the death of principal figures of the United States government and the governor of a state, territory or possession, as a mark of respect to their memory."

According to the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs website, the flag should be flown at half-staff when directed by the president or the governor.

President George W. Bush in 2007 signed into a law a bill named after a Michigan soldier killed in Iraq that requires federal facilities to observe a governor's decree for flags to be flown at half-staff to honor slain soldiers.

The bill was named after Army Spc. Joseph P. Micks, a 22-year-old Rapid River man killed July 8, 2006, in Ar Ramadi after an explosive device went off near his vehicle during combat operations.

Then-U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, said he learned of "uneven respect" in areas of the state when it came to lowering flags by a governor's decree. The legislation would "ensure consistency in how we honor fallen heroes," Stupak said in 2007.

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