On January 18th an article appeared on Fox News regarding the proposal of a law to ban signs and billboards in certain locations. Also included in this proposal is the banning of flags, banners and pennants. This, of course, throws up the concern of whether the American flag will be included among the flags, banners and pennants to be banned because, unlike in other points of the proposal, there is no refining language to say where such flags, banners and pennants are to be forbidden, the language is simply: “Flags, banners and pennants.”
How far is a municipality allowed to go in the prohibition of signage and hanging markers? How much is a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution?
Yes, one of the purposes of government is to maintain safety among the governed. As we see in the law, signs that are within 30 feet of an intersection will be prohibited. Fluttering or flashing signs, or others that draw attention of a driver away from the road will be prohibited as well. These, perhaps, are government doing what it is supposed to do to maintain safety in the community.
However, a flag on a flagpole or hanging from a business does not draw undue attention away from the road, in my opinion. Very honestly, I believe that section “F.” of this proposal needs to be modified to read something like “Flags, banners and pennants that obstruct the view of drivers at an intersection.”
Any business should be allowed to fly whatever flag they wish. If that flag is not obstructing the view of a driver at an intersection, it does not impede that driver’s safety. A flag is not a blinking or flashing sign that would confuse a driver into thinking they saw a traffic light. A flag represents an idea, and the US flag represents the United States of America.
If this law is not changed, the city of West New York, NJ, could theoretically enforce a ban on flags anywhere. Period. This would truly be unconstitutional, for the flying of the flag is free expression.
The mayor said he didn’t think this would affect the flag, but if such language is not included in the law, the mayor’s words are just that – words – nd not codified into the law. Thus they are only hot air.
It will be interesting to see what comes of this proposal. Hopefully, there are enough citizens willing to get involved in their government to see that this proposal gets changed before it actually becomes law.