Texas Governor Greg Abbott weighed in on a 9/11 memorial flag flap that erupted this week on the Southern Methodist University (SMU) campus after administrators decided to move the annual student tribute to avoid “triggering” others.
On Wednesday, Abbott urged SMU officials to move the 9/11 flag display back to its “appropriate and traditional place of honor on the lawn of Dallas Hall,” the ironic campus centerpiece.
“This display is not political. It is not partisan. It is not controversial. This is about our nation united,” wrote Abbott in a letter to SMU president R. Gerald Turner.
“I ask that the 9/11 display not be relegated to a far corner of campus. It should be celebrated in its heart,” Abbott stated. “We must never forget.”
Turner responded to the Governor, arguing semantically, that the new location Morrison-McGinnis Park, better known as MoMac Park, is “the heart of the campus” and not a “far corner.”
“Therefore, if the heart of campus is where it should be, MoMac Park would fit that description more than Dallas Hall since Dallas Hall is one our northern-most buildings,” Turner countered in a letter. He also enclosed a campus map, asserting Abbott “has been given wrong information” regarding the reason for the display’s move.
Breitbart Texas reported the SMU chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) recently learned administrators initiated a new memorial lawn display policy and student groups can no longer use the Dallas Hall lawn. While they approved the group’s upcoming 9/11 tribute, the university moved it to the new MoMac Park location.
Since 2015, YAF has hosted the solemn 9/11 memorial, placing roughly 3,000 small U.S. flags on the Dallas Hall lawn. Grant Wolf, the student group’s chairman, received the new policy in a July 24 email.
As reported by Breitbart Texas:
The email continued: “The University also respects the right of all members of the community to avoid messages that are triggering, harmful, or harassing. Those rights come with responsibility not to abuse or violate civil and property rights of others, or to interfere in the conduct of University business.”
SMU informed YAF that displays are now forbidden on the Dallas Hall lawn. They defined a memorial lawn display as “any type of visual recognition or commemoration of an event or political or social issue. Examples of items used in the display include, but are not limited to: crosses, flags, etc.”
An uproar ensued after YAF and other SMU student groups joined forces to support free speech, crafting an open letter to Turner. It lambasted the new policy. Quickly, the university softened its language, advising: “The policy has been further updated to better reflect this balance and to remove the poor wording regarding triggering or harmful messages,” as Breitbart Texas reported.
In his letter to the governor, Turner said Dallas Hall lawn was “a place where our campus community members gather for University events, outdoor classes, and breaks between classes.” He defended the new policy enacted “to meet requests” the lawn receives “for these and other activities.” Turner maintained MoMac Park was “right in the heart of campus.”
Dallas local news radio station WBAP tweeted side-by-side photos asking listeners for their thoughts on the debate.
A couple of daylight looks at the two SMU 9/11 memorial locations. First, Dallas Hall (original). Second, MoMac Park (proposed change). pic.twitter.com/wHOMXhvP7l
— Scott Sidway (@ScottyWK) August 3, 2017
WBAP tweeted this photo of MoMac Park, calling it “more central, but definitely not as prominent a spot.”
This is MoMac park, where SMU wants to move memorial. More central to campus, but definitely not as prominent a spot. pic.twitter.com/QUJsegetIB
— Scott Sidway (@ScottyWK) August 3, 2017
On Thursday, YAF thanked Governor Abbott for adding his voice to the discussion. In a letter, Wolf vowed to continue the fight so that SMU leadership allows “our 9/11 memorial and other demonstrations of free expression on the lawn at the heart of our university.”
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.