Law Protects U.S. Flags, But Not Patriotic Signs
Courtesy of The Tampa Tribune
August 1, 2006
TAMPA - Congress has created two classes of
patriotic symbols: those protected by law and those that homeowner and
condominium associations may prohibit.
No one will stop you from the flying the flag
under legislation signed into law last week by President Bush, but patriotic
signs such as the "Support Our Troops" message that has stirred debate
in northwest Hillsborough County are left unprotected.
That has local free speech advocates questioning
who benefits by controlling patriotism. "It's censorship under the guise of
regulation," said Luke Lirot, a First Amendment lawyer from Tampa.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.,
said freedom to fly the flag is crucial while the country is at war.
"The American flag is a symbol of support
for those who are fighting under it right now," Bartlett's press secretary,
Lisa Wright, said Monday.
Westchase resident Stacey Kelley has flown a flag
outside her home for several years. When her husband was sent to Iraq in
December, she also posted a 2-foot-tall "Support Our Troops" sign on
"The flag can mean a whole bunch of things
to people," Kelley said. "It doesn't have to mean you support our
Kelley's homeowner association demanded her sign
come down because it violated deed restrictions prohibiting signs. Even with its
stars and stripes and red-white-and-blue colors, the sign isn't protected by the
Most federal and state laws treat flags
differently from signs, said Molly Foley-Healy, general counsel for the
Community Association Institute, an Alexandria, Va.-based organization that
One exception is California. Foley-Healy doesn't
expect other states to follow its lead, though.
"We are always of the opinion that those are
the types of issues that should be left to associations," Foley-Healy said.
The federal law won't affect flag flying in
Florida. Gov. Jeb Bush signed a similar law in 2002 allowing people to fly one
removable U.S. flag, regardless of association restrictions.
Lewis Laricchia, a homeowners advocate who lives
in Valrico's Brentwood Hills subdivision, flies his flag atop a 25-foot
Laricchia said his neighbors never complained
about his flag, even before the 2002 law passed. Other patriotic symbols such as
signs probably wouldn't draw objections either, he said.
making an issue when there really shouldn't be one," he said.