A Turlock man frustrated by what he sees as a dearth of patriotism is proposing something radical: a law requiring all businesses and nonprofit agencies in Stanislaus County to fly the American flag.
Donnell Bak, 62, collected about 600 signatures on a letter asking the Board of Supervisors to pass the law "To give respect to the American Soldiers now serving in war in foreign countries and the fallen soldiers who have died, recently in Iraq, and Afghanistan."
"I have been walking around, going around the community, and I'm shocked at the very few American flags that were flying," said Bak, a military veteran and member of the American Legion. He said he's asked at several businesses, particularly churches, and they have refused to fly the flag.
"We've got boys dying every day in Afghanistan; I don't understand why there isn't more respect for the American flag and the United States government."
Bak said he realizes that it's unlikely the board will agree -- the First Amendment right to free speech, for instance, flies in the face of such a law. But he wanted to get a conversation started about the issue. He plans to be at Tuesday's meeting.
"There's going to be people who will fight it," he said. "Let them. That's why we brought it up."
The letter is in the packet for this week's meeting. It's filed as correspondence, meaning the supervisors won't vote on it.
Bak said he hopes the board will send his letter to its attorney to see what can be done. County Chief Executive Officer Rick Robinson said he intends to do just that.
"It's an engaging idea," Robinson said. "I think we all want to recognize the contribution and sacrifice of others." But, he said, the mandate outlined in Bak's letter probably won't fly because of the free speech protections in the Bill of Rights.
"There are certain things we probably can't do because we live in the land of the free," he said.
Supervisor Vito Chiesa, who represents Turlock, said he was aware of the effort and though the board isn't planning any action, he'll "ask some questions."
"It's pretty peculiar," he said.
Among those who signed the letter is Mary Trickey of Ceres, who was approached at the Village Fresh store in Turlock.
"I just thought it would be a nice patriotic thing that we all recognize our flag," she said. "I feel that people don't really honor our flag as they should."
Dorothy and Allen Berg of Turlock also signed the letter for Bak, a friend. They admire his intentions but don't think the idea will go forward.
"It's like keeping a snowball in hell from melting," Allen Berg said. "It won't go any place."
Supervisor Jim DeMartini is against the idea.
"I can kind of understand their point, and I have a flag in my yard on a 40-foot pole, but I'm just not one for heaping more regulation on business," he said.
Bak said he knows he's in for a fight. He said he won't argue with anyone who maintains that one of the freedoms the flag represents is the freedom to decide when -- and whether -- to fly it.
"I'm not going to argue with anybody," he said. "We are having soldiers die in Iraq and Afghanistan every day. If they want to argue, I'll give them some telephone numbers of families who have lost boys in the war."
The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the basement chamber at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.
Bee Assistant City Editor Adam Ashton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2366.