Bank of America Flag Controversy Illustrates Dangers of Blind Obedience


Last week, a Bank of America branch in Gaffney, SC stirred up controversy by removing American flags from an adjacent sidewalk. The bank later returned the flags, which were intended for a funeral procession for a fallen Marine. But the city isn’t about to forgive the bank.

The Spartanburg Herald-Journal has more:

The controversy developed last Tuesday as plans were being made for the body of Marine Lance Cpl. Chris Fowlkes to be returned to Gaffney. Fowlkes died Sept. 10 in a hospital in Germany of injuries he received in Afghanistan the previous week when a roadside bomb exploded.

Brenda Earls of Gaffney said she put flags on her street, York Drive, where Fowlkes’ grandparents, Ruth and John Fowlkes, also live. Earls also placed the small flags along the sidewalk of several businesses on Floyd Baker Boulevard, including Bank of America. She said the flags were on the street right-of-way and not the businesses’ property.

Earls said she noticed flags in front of the bank were gone as she continued her distributions and was approached by branch Manager Brandy Tate, who told her the bank’s policy did not allow flags for fear of “offending a customer.”

Earls said Tate told her the flags that were removed were inside the bank, and Earls should pick them up if she wanted them back. After a couple of hours, the bank’s corporate office issued a statement that removal of the flags had resulted from a breakdown in communications.

The bank returned the flags for an initial procession on Wednesday, then again for the actual funeral that Friday. It also issued a formal apology:

“We want to ensure the community knows how deeply proud we are of the men and women who have sacrificed so much in service to our country. The bank does fly the American Flag at our locations throughout the country and flags were displayed in front of our banking center in Gaffney the evening prior to our dedicated Marine returning home. We deeply apologize for any misunderstandings. “

But the controversy hasn’t died down. Today, the Cherokee County Council–Gaffney is located in Cherokee County–voted to close its Bank of America accounts.

It sounds like the B of A branch manager was operating under the same mentality as the Burger King manager who kicked out a baby earlier this year for not wearing shoes. That is, he let fear of corporate repercussions override common sense. He probably thought he would get in trouble if he didn’t strictly obey company guidelines.

The problem was his narrow-mindedness. If he had seen the situation from the town’s perspective, he would have realized that removing flags could potentially harm the bank more than his blind obedience of policies. Not knowing more about the branch manager’s situation–perhaps an event or situation induced him to act fearfully–I think that B of A would do well to put him through a course on seeing the bigger picture.

I don’t think this warrants him being fired, though. The town is already punishing him enough.

How to Make Effective Business Decisions and How To Learn From Them
  • BrianFrank

    Finally went National!! Bank of America removes American Flags Honoring fallen Marine in Gaffney SC REMOVE YOUR MONEY

  • Chuck Walla

    BofA has been tone deaf for a long time as to its customers feelings. This is revealing of a corporate culture that would even cause a manager to think: “American Flags? Those gotta come down!” without once looking into why they were even there.

    Apparently thinking, discernment, curiosity and judgment are not core competencies the bamk wants in its mid-level staff. Losing money is the only language they understand.

  • Sarah Heflin

    This is a ridiculous situation. I think it’s sad that we have come to a place in this country that we have to worry about “offending” people with our country’s flag. (whether this was a corporate or one employees stupid decision)
    If you want to remove your money or close your credit card account for this; let me give you one more reason. (It’s the reason I closed my credit card account a long time ago.)
    Bank Of America is happy to give out credit cards with no social security number required. Which means credit cards given to illegal aliens. One more reason to pull your business from Bank of America and another reason for Bank of America to CHANGE THEIR NAME. The fact that they use “America” in their name OFFENDS ME!
    God bless the United States of America, this marines family and every person that defends our country!

  • John

    I understand that the lady placing flags probably should have checked with the bank of America out of common respect. However, we are talking about two things that are very special to this country. 1) The American Flag. It has been posted and carried with honor throughout our history. 2) The American Soldier who has the responsibility to post this flag, carry this flag, respect this flag, defend this flag, and eventually rests covered by this flag.

    I am an American Soldier. I chose to carry this flag, I will defend this flag and all the liberties it stands for. Even those liberties I may disagree with. You see, this flag stands as a symbol that you may be offended, may offend, may speak out, and most of all, live free. All most of us soldiers request is that you let this flag fly everywhere no matter where, so that we know our blood was spilled for all the right reasons.

    The young Marine that gave his life for his country and her flag deserves at least that much.

    As much as I dislike Bank Of America and its practices, I think an apology from the Bank Manager who over reacted would be in order.

    Lets go easy on everyone else who wasn’t involved. These are tough times and all of us Americans need to use some degree of common sense. Bank of America shouldn’t lose accounts over this. People still need to work. Its not thier fault. Keep it limited to those involved is a better solution to this.

  • Drea

    Thanks for your comments, everyone. What do you think companies need to do in order to help their employees realize the importance of respecting the armed forces, the American flag, and other nationally important symbols? How can a company teach employees to respect their clients rather than act out of fear? It seems like something big is missing when things like the Gaffney case happen, but I can’t put my finger on how companies can bring the humanity back into their employees.

  • Jayson Felsted

    What I want to know is, who is living in America that is actually offended by the American flag? Do these people actually exist?

  • Jack

    Unfortunately, several (not all but a significant number) of those who are offended by the American flag, currently collect a six figure government issued paycheck. The media media calls them Czars.

  • As the girlfriend of an Army Sgt., I am highly offended by these actions. But somewhere in that employee’s training, she must have been informed that the flags were inappropriate, otherwise I can’t imagine her conducting herself in such a manner. I wanna know where this “policy” really came from. So much for Bank of “America.”

    Also, for those of you who think this is uncommon, I was aware of SEVERAL Homeowner Associations (HOA’s) in years past who forbade PRIVATE homeowners from flying flags off their front porch or in their front yard. About 2 years ago, the NC legislature actually had to write a law stating that this was a “right” of a citizen, that HOA’s could not prohibit.

    It is ridiculous what we have to go thru to live in the “land of the free.” I can’t even imagine what the soliders who die for that freedom, think…..

  • Richard

    If the American Flag offends you go live under a flag that does not offend you. This is America for Heaven’s sake. We live in Tennessee and we are closing our account with B of A. This last incident is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Unfortunately my tax dollars are in the pockets of B of A.

  • Jimmy Galbreath

    The Question is are other banks policy’s the same as there’s I bet they are, But they wouldn’t tell you that now that this story is out.

  • Charisse

    If a bank employee states “The bank’s policy did not allow flags for fear of offending customers”, chances are she did not make this up. She read it in a handbook, got it as a memo, or fax or it was stated as such in a meeting. It may not be “policy” but it came from some idiot suit that is more interested in making sure they get as much money as they can by any means available even if it means turning their backs on Americans…even Americans that give their lives so that some moron at Bank of America is free to be as stupid as he/she wants to be. Well, as a customer I am offended. I am closing my account and cancelling my card. They can get their bottom line from someone who doesn’t have a social security number and is sending American dollars to other countries.

  • Tom

    Boy, It almost makes want to open an account so I can tell them where to stuff it.

  • Tom

    As far as I know, the branch is still under the management of someone that has absolutely no common sense.

  • Denise

    I used to bank with Bank of America. I left because their customer service was terrible. I opened a military account online because they had a promotion going on. The person who recommended them to me and I were supposed to get $10 each when I opened the account. They wouldn’t honor the promotion because they said I had to open the account in person to be eligible. Unfortunately, the nearest branch does not handle military accounts (even though there is a major military installation 5 miles from their building.) The nearest military branch is 2 hours away from here. Apparently, their military accounts are a totally separate business.
    Second, if you have a deposit and a debit or withdrawal on the same day, mark my words that they will post the debit BEFORE the deposit no matter what order they occur. I had to make sure I had enough money to cover any debits until the day after payday or I’d be paying overdraft fees.
    I signed up for the “keep the change” program twice and it never kicked in. When I emailed them to ask if they’d received my request,(because I didn’t have a day to drive 2 hours each way to visit a military branch) they got snippy. I closed my account with them and went with USAA. Now I get the best service ever.

  • Dan

    Perhaps they should change their name to Bank of Arabia. They obviously do not deserve to use the name America as part of their corporate identity. I will be closing my accounts and cancelling my credit cards with these fools.

  • Joe Siebert

    Never Would I Have An Account With BofA. I Put 4 Years In The Marine Corps. We Believe All Marines Are Our Brothers.Sometimes Marines Watch There Brothers Die.

    This Is Our Country. Our Flag Is The Symbol That We Are Americans. Why In The Hell Should We Feel That Flying The American Flag By A Corporate Giant Like BofA Would Offend Anyone? We Owe Those Who Want To Be “Politically Correct” Nothing. I Would Venture To Say There Is Not A Veteran Among Them.

  • I live in Lebanon, Mo. and the First National Bank here does NOT fly a flag and being a veteran, it just pisses me off. Do something about it, please.