Council discusses how flag ordinance fits special events

Published 10:49 pm Thursday, July 12, 2018

The LaGrange City Council discussed Tuesday a request from the Lafayette Alliance to display French and American flags on Lafayette Square on Sept. 6 in honor of its namesake’s birthday and the state and city holiday on that day.

While no opposition to the request was stated, the council did consider if the request would go against a motion that was passed last year which limited flags that the city could place on city property to the Georgia flag and U.S. flags.

“Basically, they want to have a big event on the square, and they want to make it a promotion [of Lafayette], so the request was for them to intersperse U.S. flags and French flags on the square to show the Lafayette connection. He was a Frenchman who fought in the American Revolution,” Mayor Jim Thornton said. “It raised an issue with me and with [City Manager Meg] Kelsey because you may recall a year or so ago we adopted a policy that said we would only fly the U.S. and the Georgia flag on city-owned property.”

After some discussion, the council agreed that they felt that the city policy addressed flags placed by city employees on a city property on a regular basis rather than flags placed by outside volunteers on a temporary basis, like for a special event. However, because the purpose of the original vote was to give direction to city staff, no vote on clarification was made on Tuesday.

“If somebody schedules an event at Lafayette Square, Granger Park, Calumet Park or any city-owned property then they can bring whatever signs and flags they want to,” Thornton said. “The college puts out their flags when they do events on the square, and when a politician comes to the square, he brings signs and all of that, and it is public property, but the deal is they’ve rented it. Basically, they’ve reserved it for their event, and so for the duration of their event, we let them put out whatever they want because it is their event.”

The council is not legally allowed to regulate the content of any specific signs or flags displayed because that could be ruled as an attempt to regulate free speech. The American flag and the state flag are accepted exceptions to that regulation. The only other type of speech in signage that the city can legally prohibit is pornography. However, the city can regulate styles of signage — such as temporary signs or flags — allowed at certain locations and the length of time that those signs are allowed to be in place.

“I know we were having some problems with the Confederate flag when that motion was made, it wasn’t to say that you could not do it, but that you could not do it permanently,” Council Member LeGree McCamey said.

The motion in May 2017 followed a request from the Sons of Confederate Veterans to fly the confederate flag over the Stonewall Jackson Cemetery, which is part of the Mulberry Street Cemeteries. At the time, the council cited complaints on the flag — which was on city property — from residents of the Mulberry Street community as the initial reason for changing the flag flown to the Georgia flag. Following the decision by the council, the state flag continued to fly over the cemeteries, so the distinction of permanence was significant.

The distinction of volunteers as the ones to place flags on city property may also prove significant when the LaGrange International Friendship Exchange begins decorating for its annual festival in September since LIFE is a city-funded organization and city employees have helped decorate for the festival in the past.

The LaGrange City Council is scheduled to meet again on July 24 at 5:30 p.m. at 208 Ridley Avenue.