US flag not lowered in Goliad after shooting

Jon Wilcox By Jon Wilcox

Nov. 6, 2017 at 9:30 p.m.
Updated Nov. 7, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Pat Calhoun

Pat Calhoun   Contributed photo for The Victoria Advocate

Despite a presidential proclamation, the U.S. flag outside the Goliad County courthouse remained at full-staff Monday, the day after the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history.

"The fact is, the law is plain. The law is written," said Goliad County Judge Pat Calhoun. "It's no disrespect to the president, but I think his advisers have done a poor job of informing him."

Citing his understanding of the U.S. Flag Code, which outlines how the nation's flag should be displayed, Calhoun said the code allows for lowering in only specific circumstances. He also declined to lower the flag after the 2016 Orlando club and 2015 San Bernardino shootings.

Although Calhoun readily acknowledged the tragedy and horror of those killed in Sutherland Springs, the county judge said the victims did not qualify for memorialization by lowering the national flag to half-staff. Calhoun said he would obey the governor's request to lower the Texas flag.

"Those people were not in service of the U.S. government," he said of those killed in Sutherland Springs.

All other county judges in the Crossroads, including Victoria, DeWitt, Refugio, Calhoun, Lavaca and Jackson counties, obeyed the presidential proclamation, ordering flags on public property lowered.

In Goliad County, both the Republican and Democratic chairmen decried Calhoun's decision.

"The flags belong to the people, not Judge Calhoun, in this particular instance," said county Republican Chairman Kenneth Buelter.

Buelter's counterpart, county Democratic Chairman Charles Clapsaddle, said he would like county commissioners to consider passing a policy that would not leave flag-related decisions solely to the county judge.

While Clapsaddle agrees with some of Calhoun's interpretation of the flag code, the Democratic chairman said parts of the code allow an acting president to make changes and decrees at will.

According to the U.S. Flag Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Paragraph 10, "Any rule or custom pertaining to the display of the flag of the United States of America, set forth herein, may be altered, modified, or repealed, or additional rules with respect thereto may be prescribed, by the Commander in Chief."

Calhoun acknowledged he had read that portion of the flag code but nevertheless stood by his decision to disobey the presidential proclamation, which he described as going against the code's spirit.

Calhoun, who served as a major in the U.S. Marine Corps and gave 17 years to military service, including time spent in combat leading a company during the first Gulf War, said he was bound by oath.

"I once took a solemn oath to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic, and obey the laws of the land," he said. "Nobody has ever relieved me of those duties."

Although Calhoun may face criticism from within his own county, an elected official in Alabama said he approves of the decision.

In 2016 after the Orlando night club shooting, Baldwin County Commissioner Tucker Dorsey attracted national media coverage when he ordered county flags not lowered. Dorsey said that decision had nothing to do with the sexual orientation of many of the Orlando victims.

Because Dorsey no longer serves as chairman of his county's government, the decision to lower was not his on Monday.

Nevertheless, he said he stood by his previous decision and respected Calhoun's.

Reasons for lowering the flag can be found in the U.S. Flag Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Paragraph 7, Sub-paragraph M.

"I'm with the judge," Dorsey said. "If you read the Flag Code word for word, it specifically states what the flag is lowered for."

But for Clapsaddle, that understanding of the code was flawed, and he hoped to prove it come Monday's public commissioner's court meeting.

"I think he (Calhoun) is being inconsistent," Clapsaddle said.


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