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University of Kansas Removes Controversial Flag Art

July 12, 2018

The University of Kansas has taken down a controversial work of art in which images are placed on an American flag (right).

The university acted after Republican politicians criticized the art. Chancellor Douglas A. Girod issued a statement citing safety concerns for ordering the flag to be taken down and moved into the campus art museum that sponsored the installation. "Over the course of the day, the conversation around this display has generated public safety concerns for our campus community. While we want to foster difficult dialogue, we cannot allow that dialogue to put our people or property in harm’s way," he said.

University officials had earlier on Wednesday defended the flag display.

Governor Jeff Colyer of Kansas and Steve Watkins, a Republican candidate for Congress from Kansas, condemned the art installation at the University of Kansas, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.

The piece, called “Untitled (Flag 2)," by German artist Josephine Meckseper, resembles an American flag with additional illustrations. It is part of a national project called "Pledges of Allegiance."

"To those who would trample, burn, or deface the flag, thank a soldier. It hurts me to see a defaced flag fly at the University of Kansas," Watkins wrote on his Facebook page. "My thoughts turn to my friends whose coffins were draped in our flag. I’m sorry that a Kansan would deface our symbol of strength, unity, and patriotism."

Colyer, a Republican, issued a statement Wednesday demanding the art piece be taken down.

"The disrespectful display of a desecrated American flag on the KU campus is absolutely unacceptable," Colyer said in a news release. "Men and women have fought and bled for that flag and to use it in this manner is beyond disrespectful. I have communicated with KU Chancellor Doug Girod and Board of Regents President Blake Flanders to express my disappointment that a taxpayer funded institution would allow such a display of our sacred flag, and I demand that it be taken down immediately."

Peter Bonilla, vice president of programs at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, issued the following statement Wednesday.

"The University of Kansas must not take down this work of art. Instead KU must take a strong stand for the First Amendment. By doing so, KU would stand apart from the numerous institutions that have censored artistic expression," he said. "The First Amendment doesn’t exist to protect politically popular speech. It exists to protect the speech likeliest to stir controversy, and it is a crucial check against the power of the state to silence dissenting voices."

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Emma Whitford

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