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When “Rights” Conflict

Three Flag Flaps

What do Mary-Ann Elmore of Pittsburg, California; Gayle Tharp of rural Aledo, Illinois; and Donald Trump of the East Coast of America have in common? All three ran afoul of local associations who say their United States flag displays are in violation of code.

Mary-Ann Elmore hung the US Flag in her apartment window, as a promise and a pledge to her brother-in-law, who was in the Army and departing for Iraq: “That I would put his flag up in my window and I would not take it down until the day he came home.” But the management where she lived said she had to take the flag down. It was considered a sign or an advertisement by the apartment complex.

Gayle Tharp, widow of Petty Officer 1st Class Jerry Tharp, USN, erected a flagpole and flies the flag at her husband’s grave, at Greenmound Cemetery in Keithsburg, Illinois. But cemetery trustees say the flag and other memorabilia at the grave site are in violation of Greenmound Cemetery’s written regulations. These regulations prevent things that might interfere with the groundskeeping.

Located on the grounds of Mar-A-Largo, Trump’s private social club in Palm Beach, Floriada, the 80-foot flagpole exceeds the 42-foot zoning code limits, not to mention his 15 x 25 foot red, white, and blue Stars and Stripes. Trump insists that anything less “would look ridiculous in terms of proportion,” but the city says no way.

So who is right and who is wrong?

As it turns out, Ms. Elmore has a newly passed law on her side (H.R. 42[109]: Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005), which says she does have the right to display her flag however she chooses, and the apartment management quickly backed down. But in the spirit of cooperation, wouldn’t it be nice if Ms. Elmore took the flag out of the window, and flew it from a small pole, mounted diagonally on her porch or door frame. That would satisfy the apartment complex’s compelling interest in maintaining a neat and uniform appearance (that’s why the apartments all have identical window treatments), and let Ms. Elmore honor her brother-in-law and keep her promise. I bet he would be just as pleased.

And yes, the written regulations at Greenmound prohibit Mrs.Tharp from flying the US flag at her husband’s grave. Maybe the regs should be carved in stone right at the entrance to the cemetery so there’s no doubt about what a family can do at a loved one’s grave site. But if you can’t put Old Glory on a soldier’s grave … where can you put it? A close examination of the photo taken of the Greenmound Cemetery shows that there is no uniformity in the grave markers. I don’t understand why mowing around a bench or a flagpole would be any more complicated than mowing around anything in the cemetery. But here’s a thought: perhaps Mrs. Tharp could eliminate the flag pole, and use a smaller flag to mount on his grave marker. Or set up a small pole-mounted flag on national holidays and the date of his death. This is a time-honored way of paying respect, and is no less honorable than flying a flag 24 hours a day. And perhaps the trustees at the cemetery could take another look at their regulations and set up some guidelines for flying the flag at graves other than “no you can’t.”

Dear Donald,
No one is preventing you from flying the American flag. A 42-foot flagpole is a nice size (I wish I had one!). You could put up a hundred of them. You could give a flag lapel pin to everyone who comes to the club. You could plant a massive garden of red, white, blue flowers in the image of the Stars and Stripes. To be sure, an 80-foot flagpole and 15×25 foot flag would make my heart flutter, but honoring and respecting the flag includes obeying the rules of the municipality where it flies. If you want the rules changed, don’t sue—work to change the law.

Why is this hard, folks?

3 thoughts on “When “Rights” Conflict

  1. Fantastic in every respect. K

  2. I have the same problem at my apartment building…they want me to take down my American flag. I won’t do it because I was also robbed after an argument with the management in September ’06.

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