Kansas governor, rival now demanding removal of flag art from KU museum; KU remains mum
photo by: Joanna Hlavacek
TOPEKA — Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer and a top GOP rival called Thursday for the University of Kansas to remove an altered U.S. flag from its campus completely rather than showing it in an art museum after complaints prompted an end to its being displayed publicly outside.
Colyer and other Republicans saw flying the altered flag as a public art display as disrespectful. He said during a Fox News Radio interview Thursday that the piece should be returned to the artist.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach also demanded publicly that the altered flag be removed from the university. Kobach is trying to unseat Colyer in the state’s Aug. 7 primary and issued a statement as Colyer was being interviewed, criticizing both the university and Colyer.
The altered flag was part of a national project called “Pledges of Allegiance,” meant to stir conversations about the nation’s current political climate. It was flying on a pole outside a building on the university’s main campus in Lawrence, but Chancellor Douglas Girod had it moved Wednesday afternoon , saying its display had generated public safety concerns.
Colyer called Girod on Wednesday to demand that the altered flag be taken down. He also ordered that an additional 19 flags be raised on the Statehouse grounds in Topeka in what spokesman Kendall Marr said was a show of support for the flag and its proper display.
“It’s not appropriate to have a desecrated U.S. flag at a taxpayer-funded institution,” Marr said Thursday. “He doesn’t want it at the university at all.”
Kobach said the same thing in his statement. But he also took after Colyer over the relocation of the art display to the Spencer Musuem of Art, suggesting the governor hoped “the public will not notice that the defiled flag is still on display.”
“It is ridiculous to call that a solution,” said Kobach, who rides in parades in a Jeep painted in a flag design and festooned with campaign stickers with a replica machine gun mounted on back.
The Lawrence Journal-World reported that University of Kansas police took at least one report Wednesday of a threat at the museum. Someone threatened a person by phone, according to the department’s online crime report log. The case remained open Thursday.
A university spokeswoman did not immediately respond Thursday to a telephone message and email from The Associated Press requesting comment on the Republicans’ most recent comments or the threat report. She also did not respond to inquiries from the Journal-World Thursday. Nor did KU’s Spencer Museum of Art.
Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said the decision to move the altered flag “smacks of censorship.”
“That is an affront to the spirit of the First Amendment, and the values for which the flag stands,” Kubic said in an email.
Creative Time, the nonprofit, New York-based arts organization that commissioned the work, said events in Kansas illustrate the political divisions that the “Pledges of Allegiance” project “confronted head-on.”
“The right to freedom of speech is one of our nation’s most dearly held values. It is also under attack,” the group said in a statement. “We are proud to stand by artists who express themselves.”
— Journal-World reporter Joanna Hlavacek contributed to this report.