Date: September 24, 2008
Byline: Brian Morelli
UI flag policy contrasts federal policy
University of Iowa sets its own rules for flying the Stars and Stripes high above the Old Capitol's golden dome in the heart of campus.
It is UI policy to lower its flag to half-staff to honor faculty, staff, students or faculty emeriti that have died. The UI president also has the authority to lower the flag for others outside the university. However, this appears to contrast the federal flag code written in 1942, which states only the U.S. president and state's governors have that authority.
"It is our understanding this is a matter of etiquette," UI spokesman Steve Parrott said. "The way the rules are written, we have the discretion to lower our flags if we want to."
UI is the only one of the regent universities to have such a flag policy. Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa and the Iowa City School District all follow only the federal code and presidential or gubernatorial orders in lowering the flag to honor the dead.
The UI policy was developed during James Freedman's tenure as president, which was from 1982 to 1987, and has been reviewed by lawyers several times over the years to ensure it is proper, Parrott said. UI talked to the Iowa Attorney General's office about the policy in 2006, but the office did not provide advice, Attorney General spokesman Bob Brammer said.
National officials on flag policies concur in part with UI's read of the matter, although they say the federal policies are intended to be followed.
"They have right to lower the flag to honor an individual citizen. We don't encourage it," Mary Ellen Anderson, office manager of the Pittsburgh, Penn.-based National Flag Foundation, said of individuals lowering the flag independent of presidential or gubernatorial decree.
Whitney Smith, director of the Winchester, Mass.-based Flag Research Center, said there is no penalty for individual, but it is not the original intent.
"The code itself is discretionary. It is not a law. There are no penalties," Smith said. "(But) the more often you do it and the more circumstances, you lower the importance of it. The original intent was that only the highest officials were recognized."
Some, however, see UI's policy as disgraceful.
"I guess the Board of Regents and the universities can do whatever and it is okay, not what is the rule of law," said Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenville. "It is a violation of code. It is pretty simple to most people in Iowa. It is the law, you obey it. You break it, there has to be consequences. But to the president and those in academia, they do whatever the hell they want."
"It is sickening is what it is," he said.
Gordon Zumwalt, 86, serves as a director of American Legion Post No. 17 in Iowa City, and he handles the duties of raising and lowering the flag.
"I raise it fast in the morning; bring it down slow at night. I fold it properly and don't let it touch the ground. I know the code by heart," he said.
However, Zumwalt lowers the flag to honor American soldiers from Iowa that die in battle, which stirred a bit of controversy a couple years ago. Some viewed this act as rogue behavior and a political statement by those that opposed the Iraq War.
Zumwalt's view on the matter was simple.
"If an American soldier gives his life, he has every right to have the flag flown at half-staff as the American President because he gave his life so that person could be president," Zumwalt said, noting that he is not going to contest how others use the flag to honor the dead. "I am sure not going to buck them. I am not going to say nothing, other than you are supposed to go with the flag etiquette."
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