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Army dad told prayer flags have to go

A Hudson man is refusing to take down the Buddhist prayer flags he attached to the exterior of his rented townhouse the day his son left for basic training in the U.S. Army.

Don Chering got a phone call from his landlady last week telling him that she had received a letter from the Lighthouse Villas Homeowners Association ordering the prayer flags to be removed by the end of the month.

Chering put up the prayer flags and an American flag on Nov. 9, the day his son Aaron left for basic training in the U.S. Army at Fort Sill, Okla.

As a practicing Buddhist, the flags are his way of supporting the troops and his son's military service, Chering says.

He told his landlady (who he said was apologetic about relating the association's order) that he wouldn't comply with the demand.

"I said, you know that is a violation of certain constitutional rights. This probably isn't going to be the last you're going to hear about it from me. There are limits to what is acceptable and what's not acceptable. I don't think flying a flag to represent your country or your belief system is something the homeowners association should dictate to us," Chering related to a reporter last Thursday.

Chering, his wife Sandee and their two sons have resided at the townhouse on Bridgewater Trail in the Lighthouse subdivision for five years.

They moved to Hudson for the services the school district had to offer their younger special needs son, Dan.

Chering is a British citizen, but has lived in the United States for 20 years. He came to this country after marrying Sandee, a native of northern Minnesota.

The two met when she was a flight attendant for Pan Am World Airways and came to Chering's London real estate office looking for an apartment to rent.

He's now a safety manager for Dart Transit Company at the trucking firm's headquarters in Eagan, Minn. Sandee is a cashier at the County Market grocery store in Hudson.

"I'm more patriotic than a lot of Americans even though I'm still a British citizen," Chering said.

He finds it ironic that his son joined the Army to protect American freedoms, and the local homeowners association -- in his view -- is trying to oppress his religious freedom.

Chering said he grew up in an evangelical Christian family, but grew dissatisfied with the religion and eventually began investigating Buddhism seven or eight years ago. He took his Buddhist vows in 2011.

The basic teaching of Buddhism is to stop hurting other people and yourself, he said.

"It's a very rich tradition of compassion," he said, and added with a laugh, "I'm not very good at it."

No one has been asked to take the Christmas lights off their townhouses, Chering noted.

He said he's not sure if the homeowners association is demanding that he take down the American flag, too. His landlady told him that the association's rules say nothing can be attached to the exterior of the townhouses.

The association rules are unconstitutional if they allow one type of flag, but not another, Chering contended.

"We're a community, and they want to homogenize everybody," he said. "We live side-by-side as Christians and Buddhists. Outside are Christmas lights, prayer flags and an American flag. That's how we should be living in this country. That's what our founding fathers intended for us. We shouldn't be pushing each other around. We shouldn't be forcing our beliefs on other people. And we sure as heck shouldn't be stopping other people from practicing their beliefs respectfully -- in a way that doesn't hurt anybody."

He said a neighbor was forced to remove a basketball hoop because the association said it was an eyesore.

Applegate Property Management of Stillwater, Minn., manages the Lighthouse Villa townhouses.

A company spokesperson wouldn't comment on Chering's green, yellow, blue, white and red prayer flags other than to say that Applegate is hired to manage the property and enforce the bylaws of the homeowners association.

She wouldn't divulge the names of association board members.

"I'm not taking the flags down," Chering said when asked how he planned to respond to the order for their removal.

He said he's contacted the American Civil Liberties Union to see if the organization will pursue legal action on his behalf.

"I'm not a wealthy man, so I can't afford a pile of lawyers to defend my liberties, but I'm hoping that by sharing my story the homeowners association will have a change of heart," he added.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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