As a mark of respect, President Obama ordered that American flags be lowered to half mast until sunset last Monday, to mark the passing of Nelson Mandela. Rick Clark, the sheriff of Pickens County, South Carolina, refused. On Monday, the flag over his office waved proudly at the top of its staff.
Sheriff Clark posted on his Facebook page:
“I usually don’t post political items, but today is different. I received this notification today, ‘As a mark of respect for the memory of Nelson Mandela, the President orders that the flag of the United States be flown at half-staff effective immediately until sunset, December 9, 2013,’
Nelson Mandela did great things for his country and was a brave man but he was not an AMERICAN!!! The flag should be lowered at our Embassy in S. Africa, but not here.”
Was it a racist act on the part of the sheriff? Or does he have a point that our nation’s flag should be lowered only to honor an American?
Before you decide, you should know there is a federal regulation that governs how to display the flag. That’s right. There is a law – the very stuff and trade of sheriffs. Here’s what it says:
By order of the President, the flag shall be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a State, territory, or possession, as a mark of respect to their memory. In the event of the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries, the flag is to be displayed at half-staff according to Presidential instructions or orders, or in accordance with recognized customs or practices not inconsistent with law.
A sheriff does laws like McDonald’s does burgers. I think it’s fair to assume that Rick Clark’s first reaction to being given an instruction he objected to, would be to find out what the law says. He’d want to know if he had a legal way out. So Sheriff Clark must have known President Obama was legally exercising a power explicitly given to him. Must have! Because if he didn’t know, if he didn’t bother to determine what the law was before he inserted his own opinion, he should be fired immediately.
Let’s give Sheriff Clark the benefit of the doubt and assume him to be willfully criminal, and not simply incompetent. The sheriff simply refused to follow a law because he doesn’t agree with it. I wonder how he would react to a speeding motorist who told him he knew the speed limit was 55, but he didn’t have to observe it because, in his opinion, it should be 70?
Sheriff Clark told a local television station:
“To show a sign of respect for what Nelson Mandela’s done, I have no problem with lowering it in South Africa, in their country. But in our country, it should be the people, in my opinion, who have sacrificed for our country.”
I do not understand why, in the sheriff’s way of thinking, it is permissible to lower an American flag in South Africa but not in South Carolina. Is the flag less of a national symbol when it’s outside our borders? But beyond logic, the real problem with Sheriff Clark’s statement is that, as sheriff, he doesn’t get to have an opinion. He is charged to lower the flag regardless of whether or not he thinks Nelson Mandela is deserving of the honor.
Convenient, how Sheriff Clark never mentions he knows there is a regulation he is violating; he just posts his opinion as if it has the same weight as an order from the president. My own suspicion is he one of those good ol’ southern boys who doesn’t recognize President Obama’s power to issue a presidential directive, so in his mind, whatever it says doesn’t count.
To me, Sheriff Rick Clark will always be a shining example of racism in a (very thin) disguise. How does he strike you?
Photos Rick Clark’s Facebook
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