For many people, symbols pack more power than policies. A reasoned disagreement on issues can quickly turn emotional if someone inserts the flag into it, which is exactly what has happened in Framingham, Mass.

For many people, symbols pack more power than policies. A reasoned disagreement on issues can quickly turn emotional if someone inserts the flag into it, which is exactly what has happened in Framingham, Mass.


It started when the son of a prominent minister purchased an American flag, with a peace symbol in the blue field instead of 50 stars, and hung it outside the parsonage on Edgell Road. The flag, the Rev. Peter Cook says, reflects his family's opinion that U.S. troops should be withdrawn from Iraq as soon as possible.


Some of his neighbors and parishioners disagree, and have since mounted a flag protest of their own. On a small strip of town-owned land in front of the parsonage, they have planted dozens of small American flags.


One who has led the protest calls Cook's flag a disgrace. "It's an insult to veterans and to military families," David Player told a Daily News reporter.


We disagree. We look at the field of flags - the "peace flag" included - and see a fine array of red, white and blue. We see patriotism on both sides, for there is nothing as essential to American civic life as voicing your opinion on compelling public concerns. If criticizing the policies of the president is unpatriotic, we're all in trouble. If the flag just stood for one set of policies or one political party, it could not represent a nation united.


You disrespect the flag when you fly it in the dark, allow it to become faded and torn, or dispose of it carelessly. Companies that turn the flag into a fashion accessory, who use flag designs on beach towels, underwear and cheap trinkets, show more disrespect for the flag than those who alter it to make a political statement.


We have no problem with any of the flags on Edgell Road. If a collection of small flags with peace symbols should join the others on the town-owned land, that would be fine with us. We'd welcome other flags as well. Perhaps an Iraqi flag or two would be a nice addition. If you really want to see a snit, plant a green, blue and yellow Brazilian flag amid the red, white and blue. Would the town then step in to clean up the flags?


It's noteworthy that just steps away from the array of flags sits Plymouth Church, where Cook is pastor. On that spot in 1862, Julia Ward Howe's "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was first performed in public.


Back then, Americans fought and died under separate flags. Today, we argue politics and policy under the same flag. All are free to alter it to make their chosen points, but none can stake a greater claim to the flag than those with whom he disagrees.


"Capture the flag" is a child's game. In America, it belongs to all of us. Long may it wave.