I sit here dumbfounded at my computer this morning as I read the Town of West New York, County of Hudson’s Ordinance # 2/13. It is an Ordinance appearing to pertain to “beautification” and cleaning up a town that is overrun with banners and signs. However, due to item “F” in this Ordinance, “tidying up” also includes not allowing flags to be flown anywhere in the one-square mile town—which could include the American flag.
In addition to the “no fluttery flag flying” rule, everyone would have to remove all permanent window and doors signs that exceed 15% of the glass area and all temporary window and door signs that exceeds 10% of the glass area. And, since the proposed ordinance states “anywhere in the town”, I can make the reasonable assumption it would also include the interior of people’s homes and businesses. No more cute vinyl Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine, or Easter decals for the folks, which includes schools, private residences, and businesses of the Town of West New York.
Additionally, teachers will not be able to post signs to students on their classroom door windows if it takes up more than 10%. Students won’t be able to post their signs and banners about activities and events. Churches would have to remove all of the flags in their buildings, which would include the state flag, the church flag, and the United States flag. If schools and churches put together musicals, the banners, flags, signs, or pennants used is such a productions would no longer be able to be used. They will be illegal if this Ordinance is passed.
For those of you who think you can “grandfather” in the signs you already have erected that violate the ordinance, that issue was addressed as well, and you must take them down. No more covering 10 or 15% of business glass windows; no signs giving directions or “For Sale” signs for real estate agents. Residents cannot display those fun, small flags, either. Any and all information put in the windows of businesses will have to be removed and located elsewhere, like on an interior wall where, unfortunately, people won’t see them after business hours.
Being reasonable, I was sure there was some logical explanation to such a strong ordinance that basically excludes almost any and all types of signs to be prohibited. Could they really be going to so much trouble simply to strip residents of their freedom to fly the American flag?
To find out, I called the Mayor’s office of the Town of West New York. Their official statement is, “The Ordinance was not meant to ban flying the American flag. It is intended to limit the use of flags and banners for businesses.” When I asked the Mayor’s office if they intend to change the verbiage on Ordinance, I was told “not the plan at this time”. I stated that without the Ordinance explicitly stating that it is for business, and because it states “anywhere,” it could apply to everyone. Upon further research I found a formal statement from the Mayor Felix Rogue (who, by the way, was arrested and indicted on May 24, 2012, for cyber crimes on the town’s website). Mayor Rogue states, “The American flag, or any nation’s flag, is not banned for use by residents.” According to the mayor’s statement, the Ordinance was meant to address the “digital signs and advertisements polluting our streets.” However, although Rogue addresses residential flag flying, he still doesn’t directly say whether or not the American flag can be flown on businesses.
Still, everything seems reasonable except for the fact that there is already an Ordinance in their general code, “Chapter 338. Signs,” which already deals with the use of signs and advertisements. Chapter 338 is very detailed–so why the new amendment? Why such broad language over the already detailed wording, which can be left to anyone’s interpretation according to their own values? If the amendment is really only for businesses, are the Mayor and Commissioners stating businesses can’t fly the American flag? If the Mayor and Commissioners want to truly protect the residents and businesses of their town, they need to be specific in the wording of the newly proposed amendment to their sign ordinance. With the way the language currently reads on the amendment, future Mayors and Commissioners can use the proposed ordinance, if passed, to ban residents and businesses owners from flying the American flag.
If they keep the language as is and pass the Ordinance, residents and businesses still have the First Amendment of the Constitution to fall back on. If the First Amendment isn’t good enough to allow residents to flag the American Flag, they can always look at the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005. What is terrible about this Act is that it had to be created in the first place. Aside from the fact that Americans have the right to display the American Flag as protected by free speech in the First Amendment, it’s ludicrous that legislation had to written and passed into law to spell out the protection of that right and freedom. What kind of country do we live in where people want to create laws where people cannot even fly the flag of the Nation’s country?
According to the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005, “a condominium, cooperative, or residential real estate management association cannot refuse a person to fly the American flag”. No, it doesn’t say a “government body” within a town cannot refuse a person to fly the American flag. I’m no lawyer, but I am rather confident a court outside of the Town of West New York is not going to allow a governmental body to tell residents they cannot fly their flags, when homeowner associations have no such right. I’m sure when the One Hundred Ninth Congress of the United States of American passed the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act on January 3, 2006, they didn’t think they needed to include “governmental body” in the list of who couldn’t refuse people to fly the American flag. Our country is getting to point of ridiculousness about simple manners that have already been established. Creating laws on top of laws to explain to people just what the laws mean. Good grief, Charlie Brown! Can a person fly the American flag? Yes! Now, let’s move on to more important matters.
Residents of the Town of West New York, fly your American flags proudly!