Cutting Up Flag in Play Disqualifies Teens from Competition


The students from Archbishop McCarthy High were performing the James Clavell play The Children's Story. The plot concerns a conquered America. The New Teacher for a schoolroom takes about 20 minutes to completely control the hearts and minds of the children. She demonstrates her power by enlisting their help in an act of flag desecration. It's presented to them as a great way of having a piece of the flag for themselves, since it's such a great thing. The children, happy with their new teacher and ungrounded in the actual meaning of the Pledge they've been parroting, take up their scissors and snip the flag to pieces.

Clavell wrote the basis of the play when his five-year-old daughter asked him for a dime after saying the "plege illegience". The story and the play are powerful renditions of how fragile a child's understanding can be, and how a grounding in independent thought is the heart of a democratic education.

Yet in our post-9/11 world, the reactionaries are growing stronger. The students of McCarthy High were disqualified from competition based on their faithful replaying of the script.

After receiving complaints about the flag cutting, co-chairman Melody Wicht, who teaches drama at Pembroke Pines Charter High, disqualified the McCarthy team.

"Some people came to me after the play and complained about the performance," Wicht said. "So I looked into it."

Wicht said she based her decision on Florida Statute 876.52, which says "Whoever publicly mutilates, defaces or tramples with intent to insult any flag ... of the United States shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree."

"I tried to stay as objective as possible as they performed," Wicht said. "My problem was that they took an American flag off the flagpole and cut it into pieces. They were disqualified based on Florida law."
Wicht is an idiot. Let us dispense with the intents of the characters on stage, which is fiction. All the characters, except the New Teacher, intend to honor the flag. No, let's look at the intent of the production and the actual actors on stage.

The cutting up of the flag is meant to have a strong dramatic effect - it's the sight of the innocent doing something that should be unthinkable. And that's not just cutting up the flag - it's the play's total effect. It's how quickly the New Teacher can steal our children away from us. When done properly, the play is not meant to insult the flag. It's meant to caution the parents.
Ameli Fragetta, Erin's mother, said anyone who knows about the play knows the flag is destroyed in a respectful fashion.

"This play has been a voice of patriotism for years and is regularly performed at district, state and national drama competitions," Fragetta said. "My daughter is very upset. Justice and fairness are very important to her, and this decision just wasn't fair."

Fragetta said her daughter, a Girl Scout, saves the flag fragments after performances to dispose of at official flag destruction ceremonies.

"These kids had absolutely no intention of desecrating the flag," Fragetta said. "They're just performing a very serious play where the flag is destroyed. This is ridiculous."
Was anyone offended by the cutting up of the flag? They ought to have been. But was the intent to insult the flag? No.

Wicht, as a drama judge, should have recognized that. She didn't and bowed to the complaints of people who don't know any better. What a waste. McCarthy should boycott the competition from now on...