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Source: Recordnet.com
Date: July 9, 2007
Byline: Michael Fitzgerald

Column: Sikhs free to fly flag as they please

Time again for "Self-Appointed Censor," today involving a Lodi veteran and others who insist a Sikh temple fly the U.S. flag higher.

The veteran is Dennis Regan, 63, an Air Force veteran. Regan lives near the temple. The Sikhs fly the Sikh emblem higher than the U.S. flag, though not on the same flagpole.

"As a veteran, that offends me," Regan said.

Regan generously instructed the Sikhs on choices that would not offend him: "Maybe they should be Americans first and use their religion second."

In addition to telling the Sikhs what priority their religion should occupy, Regan offered other life coaching. Flying a Sikh flag high alienates people, he explained.

The Lodi community will better accept Sikhs if they don't keep to themselves, he added. He was one of several letter writers who upbraided Sikhs in a Lodi paper.

With due respect to Regan, a country based on freedom of religious expression allows any religious group the right to fly its flag as high as it deems proper.

The protection exists precisely because others, usually others in the majority, want to impose their values. But the Sikh temple isn't about their values. It is about Sikh values.

Besides, flying the Sikh emblem higher than the U.S. flag does not automatically mean — well, anything. Appearances can deceive.

If I were an al-Qaida operative, I would fly a bodacious U.S. flag high outside my home, just to throw off those who place such importance in symbols.

Besides, it's a temple. A temple doesn't need to fly any national flag at all.

If the fear is that the flag's placement expresses more devotion to religion than to country, then the Sikhs are dwarfed in this respect by certain evangelical Christians.

Yet I doubt Lodians are firing off letters to the editor about those fundamentalist Republicans who seem to see the U.S. Constitution as a barrier impeding the spread of their brand of Christianity to every level of government.

Or if the fear is that the flag's placement signals allegiance to the Sikhs' home country over America, the whole Fifth Column thing during wartime, then I suspect the problem may not be flags at all.

It is an increasingly diverse Lodi where some in the majority prefer ethnic homogeneity and the good old days of cultural dominance.

Or maybe it is just a time of fear. A time when others are suspect. When a narrow, judgmental patriotism holds the country in its thrall.

Then again, maybe not. Maybe a civilian can't grasp how hard it is to suspect a flag is being disrespected when your buddies have died for it.

But then, there may be sacrifice behind the things Sikhs stand for, too, as well as the flag they fly.

Then there's the human side.

Lodi's Sikhs must be keenly aware of the federal government's recent terror investigations, deportations and prosecutions of Lodi's Pakistani Muslims.

The Sikhs probably fear jingoistic Americans confuse them with Muslims and doubt their patriotism. They must have nightmares that hostile government agents unloosed by the Patriot Act may appear and destroy their lives.

So the Sikhs may ratchet up the U.S. flag as high as the pole will allow. Then what will be achieved? Hollow flag-waving. As if there isn't enough of that already.

Lodi's Patriot Posse should realize being "offended" does not mean anything to the law. It merely means the Sikhs expressed values with which they strongly disagree.

And possibly not even that. They're flying the flag, after all. They deserve static? Half the Christian churches don't fly a flag. Churches serve a different authority.

I don't know ... calling for submission to majority ideas seems a poor way of selling the Land of the Free.

It would be better to actually visit the temple. To talk to members, not at them. To exchange ideas over coffee or kacchi lassi.

People on the receiving end of that sort of Americanism will wave the flag on their own.

Contact columnist Michael Fitzgerald at (209) 546-8270 or michaelf@recordnet.com

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