HESSTON, Kan. – Hesston College will not lose any of its student funding over its refusal to fly an American flag on campus, at least not this year. Instead, it could get an extra $500, courtesy of the Kansas Legislature, to erect a new flag pole to replace the one cut down more than 30 years ago.
“We’ll be watching to see if the flag is flying,” State Rep. Melvin Neufeld of Ingalls told the Associated Press.
The two-year Mennonite college has not flown the flag regularly since 1970, when faculty and students voted to remove it after the killing of four Vietnam War protesters at Ohio’s Kent State University. Until this year, amid the post-Sept. 11 surge of patriotism, little thought had been given to the flag’s absence.
Then in March, the Kansas House of Representatives, as part of an appropriations bill, voted to cut funding for Hesston after State Rep. Bob Bethell of Alden cited a 1939 statute requiring Kansas schools, including private and parochial institutions, to fly the flag.
Bethell proposed the funding cut in a proviso added to the bill, which gained House approval March 27.
The cut would amount to about $143,000 under the new state budget, and includes scholarships awarded to about 60 Hesston students who are Kansas residents. The scholarships are part of a state program to encourage Kansas students to attend college within the state instead of seeking degrees elsewhere.
Bethell and Rep. Garry Boston of Newton said the issue was one of legality, patriotism and respect for the flag, not an attempt to force Hesston to compromise its religious views or to curb its freedom of speech.
“Maybe the money ought to go to people who appreciate the flag,” Boston said last month.
The cut did not appear in the Senate version of the bill. But in a compromise approved by the Senate April 25, the college would receive $500 to install a new flag pole.
House members who favored the funding cut said they would write the college and tell them that if the flag is not flown once a new pole is erected, the scholarship funds will be eliminated next year.
Once the final spending package is approved by both the House and Senate, the measure will go to Gov. Bill Graves, who could delete the flag-pole funding or any other item in the bill.
Though the flag is flown at other Mennonite colleges in the state – Bethel at North Newton and Tabor at Hillsboro – Hesston has only shown the flag as part of a display in the college’s Bontrager Student Center cafeteria, which features flags of all the countries represented by Hesston’s 450 students.
The college’s executive council, reacting to the legislative action, decided in April to make the display ongoing.
Hesston President Loren Swartzendruber said April 30 he would not comment on the latest developments in the case until the package is finalized and approved. At that point, Swartzendruber said, he and the college’s board of overseers would determine any future action.
This article was reprinted with permission from the Mennonite Weekly Review.