A Veteran and the American Flag

You’ve put your life on the line for our country. Its most visible symbol across the world is the American flag. What would you do if you saw it being disrespected? What do you expect others should do?

According to Dan Collins at www.kikn.com, a country music station in Sioux Falls, SD, a local school janitor was fired for complaining and posting on Facebook about the school’s shoddy treatment of the flag.

The Fort Pierre (Stanley County) resident, Cesar Zakahi, had noticed that a female custodian also working at his school was disrespectful of how the flag was treated. Each day, after the American flag and the South Dakota state flag were removed from the flagpole she would crumple them up and stash them on top of a boiler at some times. At other times, according to the Argus Leader, she would stick the flags next to toilet bowl cleaner.

Respect for the flag is not merely by custom, it’s the law. Federal law has specific codes on how the flag is to be treated, found in U.S.C. Title 36, Ch. 10, § §17-179, as well as U.S.C Title 4, Ch. 1, § § 1-2. In part, people are admonished that “The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.” Additionally, South Dakota has state laws regarding desecration of the American and state flags. According to SDC 22-9-1: “Desecration of flag. Any person who knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any flag of the United States or flag of the State of South Dakota is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.”

Mr. Zakahi, an Air Force veteran, was understandably quite upset with this. He did what people are taught to do: he took it up the chain of command. He reported the infractions to his immediate supervisor and to District Superintendent Don Hotalling. Nothing was done. Zakahi then took videos of how the flag was being treated and then posted to his Facebook page over the weekend. The next Monday morning, he was called into the superintendent’s office, along with his immediate supervisor, and according to the Argus-Leader, the superintendent told him that the photos embarrassed him and that he was out of bounds for posting the photos. He was then fired.

Mr. Zakahi who has since retained counsel, has an interesting legal case. People commonly think of the First Amendment as the “freedom to say what I want, also the press can too,” but there’s even more to it that protects us all: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Mr. Zakahi wasn’t working for a corporation striving to “stay on message,” which might have given them some leeway. Our freedoms are freedom from government, not from corporate behemoths. Mr. Zahaki was working for a public school, governed by public laws. The superintendent is a public official. Mr. Zakahi was attempting to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Additionally, according to a reading of www.whistleblowers.org, more than 20 federal whistleblower statutes may be applicable to Mr. Zakahi’s situation. “Rights afforded by these whistleblower acts include, but are not limited to, worker participation in safety and health activities, reporting a work related injury, illness or fatality, or reporting a violation of the statutes. . . Protection from discrimination means that an employer cannot retaliate by taking ‘adverse action’ against workers, such as:

  • Firing or laying off
  • Blacklisting
  • Demoting
  • Denying overtime or promotion
  • Disciplining
  • Denial of benefits
  • Failure to hire or rehire
  • Intimidation
  • Making threats
  • Reassignment affecting prospects for promotion
  • Reducing pay or hours

Legally, it would not appear within the school’s right to have laws or policies that put a person’s job in jeopardy for redressing a grievance and reporting a crime to his supervisor.”


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