HANSON – If you want to hold your banner high in Hanson, you’ll have to raise that flag on your own pole on your own property.
Only the U.S., state, town and military-related flags such as the POW-MIA flag, will be allowed to be placed on flag poles on town-owned property under a new municipal flag policy now being drafted. Nothing else will be permitted.
Town Administrator Lisa Green has been charged with working with Town Counsel Katherine Feodoroff to write the policy for the Select Board to review and adopt.
“This isn’t to curtail people’s First Amendment rights,” Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “They’ve got a right to protest on town property, they’ve got a right to freedom of speech whatever way they want, but not on our flag pole.”
The Select Board on Tuesday, Feb. 6 voiced support for the policy change as a way to prevent the discord other towns have encountered recently, for example that caused by groups seeking to counter Pride flags flown during LGBTQ History Month each June.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said the policy is an attempt to prevent complaints, lawsuits and appeals, such a with a case in Boston that ended up before the Supreme Court. Town clerks have been approached in many communities by people going through that office asking about use of town hall flag poles.
“Kate [Feodoroff] thought it was a good idea for us to adopt a policy,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
“We have, along with a lot of other towns, been getting some requests to put various political flags on our flag pole,” said Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett. “I talked to town counsel about this and I also talked to our town clerk.”
Some towns have adopted a process through which groups can apply to have their flag flown.
“I’m just one person, if you guys disagree,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “I don’t want to be judge and jury about whether this cause or that cause, and inevitably, there’s going to be something hateful that we’ll be asked to represent and then you’re getting into curtailing one group versus another and putting your own personal values on it.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett said she didn’t want to put the town in the middle of that, but she asked fellow board members if they had any fundamental problems with such a policy..
“I personally couldn’t agree more the way you just said it,” board member Ed Heal said.
“If you leave it open and you let one person hang a flag, that’s not for policy,” Vice Chair Joe Weeks said. “You’d have to let a whole bunch of people fly a flag – and I’m not even thinking about the controversies – I care about how many flags could be on one flag pole and how big the flag pole now has to be.”
“There’s just no need,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “They have their T-shirts, their bumper stickers, their hats.”
“They also have their own private property,” Weeks said.