Canan bans Old Glory at Prairie Creek campground

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

MUNCIE – In an extraordinary move, Mayor Dan Canan on Monday ordered all flags, including the American and MIA/POW flags, removed from Prairie Creek Reservoir campsites.

And Canan reiterated a earlier policy that seasonal campers must remove all trailers and equipment after Nov. 1.

"It is a sad commentary that it is an either or situation of allowing everything or nothing," said Canan, who banned Confederate battle flags and other banners last spring.

That action resulted in the Indiana Civil Liberties Union suing Canan and the city, alleging the initial policy was unconstitutional and violated the First Amendment.

Canan came up with the new policy banning all flags last week after consulting city attorneys. While indicating the new policy was a better defense of the lawsuit, Canan declined to say how the city intended to settle it.

Some campers and veterans were quick to criticize Canan’s action as several campers refused to lower their American flags. The ICLU plans to amend its suit, seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the city from banning flags. And a representative of the Indiana American Legion said Canan was overreacting to the lawsuit.

"You could see this town fill up with veterans," said Scott Brown, a Prairie Creek camper and past commander of American Legion Post 19 in Muncie.

Brown and other veterans who camp at Prairie Creek refused to take down their flags, adding they would move out of the campground if the city insisted on banning the American flag.

Steve Short, chief administrative officer of the Indiana American Legion, said under no circumstances should anyone prohibit flying the American flag, especially during the middle of a war.

"Freedom of speech as it relates to the Confederate flag is one for the lawyers and ICLU to decide," Short said. "I do have a problem with prohibiting American citizens from flying an American flag in any situation."

The state legion might ask Canan to reconsider the flag ban.

"This is a slap in the face of all Americans and a slap in the face to the United States of America," said Charles Burke, a camper and Army veteran who served in the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam.

Burke claimed the city was retaliating against him and other campers for bringing the lawsuit.

Tommy Wallace, another camper, had displayed the Confederate flag and was a party to the ICLU lawsuit. He was at the campground Monday when a park ranger told him to take down his American flag.

"I cannot believe this is happening," Wallace said. "It is ridiculous."

Kenneth Falk, ICLU attorney, said he had never seen any government order people to remove the American flag in public places.

The ICLU plans to amend its suit to challenge the ban of all flags and seek immediate relief to stop the city from implementing the ban.

"I have advised my clients to obey the regulations and not create a confrontation in removing the flags," Falk said.

Ron Bonham, Prairie Creek park superintendent, promised there would be no confrontation, that would include taking the flags down by force. He and Canan pointed out a large American and MIA/POW flags would be flown from poles at the entrance of the campground.

"It is very understandable," said Canan, about veterans’ criticism. "We are facing a lawsuit that is not centered in common sense."

Copyright 2004 The Star Press