EDITORIAL: Flag should not bend to terrorists

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Back on the Fourth of July, the Daily Inter Lake published an Associated Press story about how flying the U.S. flag at half-staff had become a common occurrence. As the story said, “some have questioned whether the country has lowered the bar on the lowering of the flag.”

That got us to thinking about how often we have lowered the flag outside our office over the past six weeks — multiple days for the terror attack in Orlando, again for the ambush and murder of police officers in Dallas, then once again for the terror attack in Nice, and most recently for the police murdered in Baton Rouge.

While all of those instances provided more than enough reason to show mourning and respect for the dead, it has started to seem to us as though lowering the flag every few days is tantamount to a form of surrender to terrorism — both domestic and foreign. Should we really be acknowledging the sick work of inhuman murderers and terrorists? Or should we vow to stand tall and unbowed before the threat of bad men?

According to the U.S. Flag Code, it is permissible for anyone to lower the flag to half-staff according to their own rules. Going forward, we intend to do so.

Yes, the president and governor can order flags to be flown at half-staff on public or government buildings under their jurisdiction, but they cannot order private citizens or businesses to do so.

It is somewhat unsettling, therefore, to receive emails from the governor of Montana that begin, “I hereby order all flags flown in the State of Montana to be displayed at half-staff...” 

During his two terms, Gov. Brian Schweitzer originally ordered flags to be displayed at half-staff in a limited manner, such as when he ordered the flag lowered at the state Capitol after the death of former Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank Morrison. On other occasions he ordered the flag to be flown at half-staff on all state property. Sometimes, he would urge, encourage or request the state’s citizens to follow suit on their own property.

But by 2007, Gov. Schweitzer had started to take a more insistent tone in his flag proclamations. Upon the death of former Lt. Gov. Karl Ohs, for instance, Schweitzer said, “I hereby order all flags flown in the state of Montana to be lowered...” Yet, there was still no consistency, and at times, the governor would revert to asking, rather than ordering, for the flag to be lowered. 

In 2012, after the tragic school shooting at Newtown, Connecticut, when President Obama ordered flags flown at half-staff on federal property, Gov. Schweitzer’s communications director issued a press release in which she noted simply, “The Governor asks that all Montanans participate in this show of respect” by lowering their own flags. We did so at the time.

Yet since Gov. Steve Bullock took office, it has been customary for the governor to order, not request, that Montanans lower their flags, and it’s happened more and more often.

Well, starting this week, the Inter Lake has decided that we will consider each flag proclamation individually and treat them as requests, not orders. Part of the freedom which the flag emblemizes is the freedom to not submit to orders that come without proper authority. We recognize the governor’s authority to order the flag at half-staff over state buildings, but going forward we will treat his “order” as a request when it comes to the rest of us.

We will always lower the flag to honor our own local heroes and our esteemed national and state leaders, but we are not inclined to lower the flag in response to the barbaric actions of terrorists. Now, more than ever the flag needs to be raised high as a symbol of our unity and strength, and should not bend to evil. 

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