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Date: March 15, 2008
Byline: Flag Dipping

Flag Dipping

We're all for religious freedom in the military and everywhere else, but we really think the Military Religious Freedom Foundation could have found better causes than an unobtrusive Naval Academy ritual.

For about 40 years, during the Sunday morning Protestant services at the Naval Academy Chapel, the color guard has been dipping the American and Naval Academy flags as they are carried before the altar. Some midshipmen and members of the academy staff have complained that the ritual is a violation of the separation of church and state. They contacted the foundation, which plans to take the matter to federal court.

The academy's superintendent, Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler, initially considered the ritual inappropriate and halted it in October. He reinstated it last month after getting complaints from churchgoers. This change of heart prompted the Military Religious Freedom Foundation's president, Mikey Weinstein, to excoriate Adm. Fowler for "monumental cowardice."

Such inflamed rhetoric is reprehensible. No responsible person throws charges of cowardice at a distinguished officer who was merely deciding to maintain one of the traditions at a tradition-laden school.

This isn't a matter of religious freedom, but it could well be a matter of flag etiquette — and on that point we're sympathetic to the complaints. Experts say the Flag Code is clear: While the American flag can be dipped in response, by an American ship returning a salute, it is never dipped first to acknowledge any person or thing. The chapel ritual apparently exists nowhere else in the Navy.

For that reason, the superintendent might well have justification for ending the practice. But talking about this as an assault on religious freedom is hogwash.

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