Flag-Waiving Officials Quickly Reverse Themselves Following Complaints

In an America awash in red, white and blue on everything from car antennas to headbands to front porches, not everyone was immediately enthusiastic about these displays of patriotism and support for the victims of last week's terrorist attacks.

At least two schools and one company, officials initially declared flag displays off-limits. Students and workers coming to work with colors were told to get rid of them or go home.

Managers at NCCI Holdings, Inc., a workers compensation database company headquartered in Boca Raton, Fla., went so far as to briefly confiscate flags from employees' cubicles, saying other workers may find them offensive.

A bus driver at Pennsylvania's Lehigh University that showed up with a U.S. flag on his vehicle was told by a campus official to remove it. Non-American students might be made uncomfortable by the display, an official told him.

And outside Houston, Texas, a teacher forced a student to remove a flag-bearing shirt Friday because it didn't meet the school's dress code.

All three of the edicts were short-lived, however, quickly falling prey to a rash of complaints and calls from outraged people in their respective communities.

In a letter to the local newspaper published over the weekend, Lehigh Vice Provost for Student Affairs John Smeaton apologized for his earlier actions.

"In a momentary lapse of judgment, which I deeply regret, I suggested the flag be removed from inside the bus," he wrote. "An hour later, when I had time to reflect on that request, I realized that my decision was absolutely wrong. I immediately asked that the flag be returned."

NCCI's flag ban was based on a company policy that considers displaying the flag a "political statement." Such statements are banned from the workplace, along with "divisive statements or actions" and "political or religious discussions." However, the ban only lasted until 4 p.m. Sunday, when President and CEO Bill Schrumpf issued a statement reversing the policy and saying the company would this week hand out red, white and blue lapel pins for those who want to wear them.

NCCI Spokesman Michael Bullard said the company is also providing free flags to any employee who wants to display one at their desk, and, in addition to the flags flying outside the company's headquarters, NCCI will put one in its atrium and is considering "modifying our position even more."

At McMasters Elementary School in Pasadena, Texas, the principal who forced a second grader wearing a shirt with a flag on it to remove it because it didn't meet school dress code said it was all a misunderstanding. Principal Mable Pratt said she was unaware that the second grader's father is a veteran and in the Army Reserves.

Earlier in the week, it was Pratt who led students in the singing of the Star Spangled Banner and "God Bless America" along with a reading of the Declaration of Independence.

The flag issue "just blew out of hand," she said.