NORTHFIELD, Ill. (CBS) — A local group took some heat this week for briefly taking down the American flag at a Northfield park and putting up a Malaysian flag.
The Chicago Sun-Times’ Winnetka Talk publication reports the Malaysian Association of Illinois gathered this past Saturday at Clarkson Park, located on the south side of Willow Road in Northfield. The purpose was to celebrate the members’ Malaysian heritage and commemorate the 55th anniversary of Malaysian Independence from the British, the Winnetka Talk reported.
But during the celebration, the group lowered the American flag and flew a Malaysian flag in its place, the publication reported.
The move drew attention from the ConservativeBrand blog, the blog of New Trier Tea Party founder and self-described “conservative citizen journalist” Eva Sorock.
“Is Northfield joining the country of Malaysia?” a Sunday blog entry read. The blog was quick to point out that the Malaysian group’s act violated the traditions of the U.S. Federal Flag Code, which restricts the replacement of the U.S. flag with that of another nation.
The blog quoted the relevant part of the Flag Code: “No person shall display the flag of the United Nations or any other national or international flag equal, above, or in a position of superior prominence or honor to, or in place of, the flag of the United States at any place within the United States or any Territory or possession thereof.”
ConservativeBrand said the Northfield Township Code expresses a policy of displaying and flying flags “in accordance with federal regulations, historic guidelines, and special proclamations issued by the President, Governor, Township Supervisor and Highway Commissioner.”
The blog said several neighbors asked police and village officials about the Malaysian flag replacing the U.S. flag, but were told the people renting out the park “have a right to fly the flag on the basis of religious freedom.”
The Malaysian Association has since apologized. Its director, Dr. Roslan Jamaludin, told the Winnetka Talk that the group put the U.S. flag back up, and the display was “not mean to offend anyone.”
Jamaludin told the publication the event was attended by over 100 people, and that they sang the Malaysian national anthem before quickly replacing the U.S. flag.
Meanwhile, Northfield Park District director George Alexoff left a comment on the ConservativeBrand blog post, saying the park district did not give the Malaysian Association permission to use the flagpole, but did not say using the flagpole was forbidden either.
“The Park District will be taking steps to clarify its laws and rules regarding use of Park District property to prevent future misunderstandings by groups using our parks,” Alexoff wrote on the blog.
Alexoff told the Winnetka Talk that he did not believe the replacement of the flag was malicious.
The Flag Code is part of federal law, first written in 1923 and adopted by Congress in 1942. But the code functions as a guide for voluntary civilian compliance, and has never included any provisions for enforcement or penalties for violation.
There have been state and federal laws against burning or desecrating the flag, but such laws were ruled unconstitutional under the First Amendment in the 1989 case Texas v. Johnson, and the 1990 case U.S. v. Eichman.
One of the most infamous challenges to the Flag Code happened in Chicago in 1989. Art Institute student and self-described Communist revolutionary Dread Scott – then known as Scott Tyler – sparked a month’s worth of protest from veterans when he lay a flag on the floor and invited visitors to walk across it in his exhibit, “What Is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?”
Then-state Sen. Walter Dudycz (R-Chicago) sued unsuccessfully in Cook County Circuit Court to have the exhibit shut down, and a teacher from Virginia was arrested for walking on the flag as the exhibit suggested. The City Council also passed an ordinance forbidding such displays from being shown in Chicago in the future, but the ordinance did not survive a court challenge.