Missing meaning: State rep takes importance away from flag


By John Krull

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, has peculiar notions of what patriotism and freedom mean.

Smith has made national news. He’s proposed a state law that would require the Indianapolis Colts to issue refunds to any football fans upset if players take a knee during the playing of the national anthem.

That’s right. A state representative wants the state to dictate both how players exercise their First Amendment rights and how a business handles its customer relations.

All in the name of small government, of course.

Such inconsistency is typical of Smith, who has built an impressive record of making a mockery of the principles sacred to a self-governing society of free people.

During the last session of the Indiana General Assembly, he — all by himself — shut down consideration of legislative attempts to curtail gerrymandering in the state. Gerrymandering is the dark science of political mapmaking so one party or the other has an unfair advantage of the other.

Gerrymandering’s effect is to warp or even undermine the will of a free people. It allows legislators — government — to choose their constituents rather than enabling constituents to choose their lawmakers.

Smith didn’t offer much of an explanation for his decision to kill redistricting reform.

But, then, a legislator from a gerrymandered district never has to offer much of an explanation for anything.

That, though, wasn’t the high-water mark for Smith’s arrogance and hypocrisy.

A few years ago, when the legislature was considering the ill-advised attempt to impose a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, Smith presided over a committee hearing on the measure.

He lectured those opposed to the ban that they couldn’t boo when the ban’s supporters testified on its behalf, but he didn’t stop those supporters from applauding when one of their champions spoke.

When the ban’s opponents tried to demonstrate their opposition by silently making a thumbs-down motion, Smith told them they couldn’t do that, either. One man in the balcony of the House chamber turned his thumb down while Smith spoke.

Smith ordered the capitol police to throw the man out of the hearing — thus denying the man two First Amendment rights, the right of free speech and the right to petition government for redress of grievances.

As the man marched out, the ban’s supporters applauded.

Smith did nothing to silence them.

Smith says his proposal to force the Colts to offer refunds if some of the team’s players protest during the national anthem came about because he attended a game where that happened. He stayed for the whole game but said the act just didn’t sit right with him.

It was disrespectful, he said.

Disrespectful to the flag.

Disrespectful to those who have served this country in the military.

The American flag is a symbol.

Among other things, it is supposed to be a symbol of our devotion as a nation to preserving certain principles. Those principles include freedom of conscience, our right to make our own moral judgments about the things our government, our elected officials and even our country has done in our name.

The test of our devotion to those principles is our willingness to protect those rights even when they are exercised by those with whom we disagree.

Even those who make our blood boil.

Or who do things that just don’t sit right with us.

That’s the part of the American creed the Milo Smiths of this world just don’t — just can’t — understand.

For Smith and others like him, freedom means that everyone has the freedom to think the same things they do.

And, no, their motivation isn’t about respect for the flag or for our service men and women.

The man Smith tossed out of the committee hearing on the same-sex marriage ban did something memorable as he left.

He carefully, meticulously, unfolded an American flag and draped it over his shoulders as he marched out.

When he was outside the chamber, he refolded Old Glory with the same sort of military precision.

It turned out he was a veteran. He’d spent 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, serving with distinction.

Smith tossed a flag-draped military veteran out of a legislative hearing just for trying to exercise constitutional rights.

And that seemed to sit just fine with Milo Smith.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 WFYI Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. Send comments to [email protected].

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