A local pastor who last week raised an upside-down U.S. flag outside his church in protest of the passage of the federal health care reform bill has returned the flag to its normal position after public outcry left him concerned for his parishioners' safety.
Pastor Dennis Winfield said last week that he had been flying the flag upside down because he felt the country was in distress following the passage of federal legislation that would reform the nation's health care system.
The bill, in part, will require all Americans to purchase health insurance, through an employer or private insurance company, or face fines. It also prohibits insurance companies from refusing coverage to children and adults with pre-existing medical conditions.
The bill is expected to carry a price tag of nearly $940 billion over the next 10 years.
Winfield said he felt the way the Democratic-controlled U.S. Congress pushed the legislation through despite public opposition was in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution.
"They passed a law saying you have to buy healthcare (insurance)," Winfield said last week. "That is circumventing the U.S. Consitution and it is destroying the U.S. Constitution. That's why (the flag) is upside down and it's going to stay there until this is straightened out."
Democrats lost their 60-member majority in the U.S. Senate after the surprise election of Republican Scott Brown in February to the late Edward Kennedy's Massachussetts seat. Sixty votes would have blocked any Republican attempt at a filibuster.
As a result, Democrats implemented a two-bill process that allowed the House of Representatives to pass the Senate version of the healthcare bill with no changes.
A second, smaller bill, with some changes recommended by House members, was then proposed under reconciliation rules in the Senate.
The second bill was approved March 25 by the House and signed into law by President Barack Obama on Tuesday. The changes added about $65 billion onto the original health care bill passed March 20.
"I am just very distraught and I think that many of the American people are and the American people need to stand up and be counted," Winfield said.
However, on Monday, the flag had been turned right-side up, a move Winfield said came after four individuals angrily protested his display Sunday. After initial outcry for the flag had begun to surface last week, Winfield said he put up a sign explaining the reason for the display.
One individual later pulled the sign up and threw it at the church, he said.
"(On Sunday), we had three people that came and were very boisterous, and (on Monday) we had somebody that actually took the sign I had out there and throw it," Winfield said. "So, I decided I'm not going to have somebody at church hurt over my protest."
Winfield said despite his best efforts to explain the reason for his protest, the individuals weren't interested in anything he had to say.
"They wouldn't listen. They didn't want to know why I put it up. They wouildn't even talk to me, they just screamed, so that's why I (flipped it back over)," he said. "They didn't understand…that it's not illegal to turn (the flag) upside down, and it's not a disgrace. It is a time that you feel you are in distress or that someone else is in distress and I believe our whole nation is in distress."
According to the U.S. Flag Code, "the flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property."
Larry Bell, commander of VFW Post 3837, said he felt Winfield was well within his rights to protest, a freedom given to the pastor by soldiers and veterans alike.
"The reason for veterans is fighting for your right to protest…but there's a limit," he said. "(Winfield) didn't cross that line with me. It did not offend me."
Despite the removal of his display, Winfield said his opinion has not changed about the state of the nation after the passage of the federal government's healthcare reform bill.
"To my way of thinking, it wasn't over the line, but some people thought it was," he said.