HAMILTON – In the wake of a recent Supreme Court decision which ruled Boston must allow a Christian Group to fly its flag over city hall, the Hamilton Select Board is considering a policy to govern which flags it lets fly over town hall and at Patton Park.
The board’s decision to allow the Pride and Juneteenth flags on town property, while striking down requests to let Right to Life and Gadsden flags to fly has already struck a sore spot with some conservative town residents.
The Select Board approved the two flag requests at its May 2 meeting, while members said the Right to Life and Gadsden (also popularly known as the Don’t Tread on Me) flags were denied.
Select Board member Thomas Myers said he read the 9-0 Supreme Court decision, and said he believed the town was still on solid legal footing and able to either accept or deny requests for flags to fly on town property.
“I think, from reading the decision, as long as we as a government board are comfortable sending a message that we think represents the community and a message we are willing to endorse and put out there through a flag, then we have that ability to do so,” said Myers.
Select Board Chair Shawn Farrell said town counsel will be taking a closer look at the request procedure and seeing if the board should consider adopting a policy guiding flag requests.
Myers, Farrell, and Select Board members James Knudsen and Caroline Beaulieu were in agreement that the Juneteenth and Pride flags represented inclusive causes the board could support.
Knudsen noted that there is a long history behind the Gadsden flag dating back to the American Revolution, but said its recent history is more muddied by association with anti-government groups.
“Especially for the Fourth of July, as has been the request, I think the very appropriate flag to fly is the American flag on that day,” said Knudsen.
Beaulieu said the Right to Life flag sends a conflicting message, especially considering that Massachusetts is a state where women have the right to choose.
“I think (the flag) is about taking rights away, and not giving them to everyone,” she said.
At the May 16 Select Board meeting, several residents gave their input on the flag issue and the possible establishment of a flag flying policy in Hamilton.
“When will the board place on the agenda a public discussion of the flag policy for Hamilton?” asked Jack Davis, a Hamilton resident and senior professor of theology and Christian ethics at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. “I’m sure you are all aware that in the Boston case, the lack of an explicit and clear policy led to the decision the Supreme Court took in that matter. My recommendation is that I would hope the Select Board would adopt the policy which would avoid viewpoint discrimination and would protect the town of Hamilton from lawsuits in these matters.”
Davis said he sees two policies the board could adopt, one narrow and one all-encompassing that would avoid viewpoint discrimination.
“The policy that I would recommend that the town of Hamilton takes is that it only fly flags that are flown by the federal government before the U.S. Congress or before the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in Boston,” he said. “That would be a clear, non-discriminatory policy. The other option which would avoid viewpoint discrimination is simply you fly ever flag given the First Amendment rights of free speech.”
Allowing every flag to fly unnecessarily broadens the debate, he said.
“I was not electing the Select Board to instruct me about what nonprofit, non-government organization I should respect or salute the flag to or whatnot,” Davis said.
Hamilton resident Susan McLaughlin said that by allowing the Pride flag to fly on city property, the Select Board was making a biased decision that discounted the viewpoints of many in town.
“I respectfully demand your decision to fly unity flags at Patton Park and the town hall be rescinded,” said McLaughlin. “You approved a flag that is integrally and exclusively connected to one of the major political parties in the United States, and it is my understanding that you simultaneously denied a request for a Christian flag. “This is an outrage, your biased decisions about which flags will and won’t be flown by the town of Hamilton on town property are clearly unconstitutional and politically divisive.”
McLaughlin said she will pursue legal action against the town if it ignores her concerns and exclusively continues to fly flags which promote “the dogma, the morals, and values of secular humanism and progressives. There is no way on God’s good earth you have the power or the right to impose the false values and morals of the secular left on those town residents who disagree with you.”