Burning the flag also a patriotic ceremony

Santa Barbara News-Press

Friday, October 6, 1989

Burning the flag also a patriotic ceremony

By Erica Glessing
News-Press Staff Writer

Flag burning can be as American as apple pie -- at least according to a Santa Barbara peace activist who plans to burn an old U.S. flag Monday in a flag-retirement ceremony in front of City Hall.

"The flag will be flown one last time, and there will be one last Pledge of Allegiance," said David Crockett Williams, who organized the event.

"The way to dispose of a flag is to burn it, not just throw it in a dumpster," said Laura Estrada, a flag historian and program specialist of the local Girl Scout Council.

"It is patriotic. We want to show that to burn a flag is not necessarily a protest," said Estrada, who will be conducting the ceremony.

Williams said he views the event as a tribute to the history of the United States. But Estrada said she sees it as a way of protesting proposed legislation that would prohibit flag-burning.

"When we do it at (girls scout's) summer camp, the (girl scout) color guard ceremoniously unwraps it and holds it up to the audience. It is a venerable ceremony," said Estrada.

The event is scheduled to begin at noon Monday in De la Guerra Plaza.

The flag will be unseamed from the edge to the center, with the stripes burned individually, according to Williams and Estrada.

"We talk about how the flag represents the past, present and future. The stripes represent the past, the stars represent the present, and the blue field represents the future, an open sky," said Estrada.

She said flag retirements differ, but in every instance people recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and split the flag into sections before burning it.

The fire symbolizes purification, said Williams, who said old flags have traditionally been burned when they become too tattered to fly.

Prayers for peace will follow the flag' s retirement, according to Williams.

Williams said he has been interested in the phenomena of flag-burning since he walked in a peace march in Dallas in 1984 -- during which a man was arrested for burning a flag.

Flag-burning was prohibited in Dallas until the Supreme Court overturned the law in June, calling it unconstitutional.

"I didn't agree with flag-burning as a form of protest. The effectiveness of protesters is reduced when they don't show respect," said Williams.

"Each of the 13 stripes will be burned, with a story told of each of the colonies, and stories of the union," said Williams.

Williams said the tradition of paying homage to the flag should be revived. "This can be a chance for people to symbolically purify their minds, and contemplate what the flag stands for -- the good that America is, and what it can become."

George Frakes, a professor of history at Santa Barbara City College who is not involved in Monday's ceremony, said traditionally, soiled or tattered flags have been burned as the method of disposal. Flag retirement was initiated early in the country's history when flags became outdated by the addition of a new colony to the union, he said.

"The tradition has everything to do with respect for the flag," said Frakes.