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Judges Rule New Rochelle Officials Control Flags Flown On City Grounds

Veterans will no longer be able to fly the Gadsden flag at the Armory.
Veterans will no longer be able to fly the Gadsden flag at the Armory. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Save The Armory

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. – A two-year-old lawsuit brought against the City of New Rochelle has been put to rest after the United States Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision affirming New Rochelle officials’ right to regulate flags flown on city property.

In 2013, a group of veterans in New Rochelle protested when the United Veterans Memorial and Patriotic Association was forced to remove a yellow Gadsden flag that was raised at the City Armory. The flag, which features a coiled rattlesnake emblazoned with the phrase “Don’t Tread on Me,” was a symbol of the Tea Party at the time, though the veterans claimed their use was steeped solely in its historical roots.

Citing violations of the organization’s first Amendment Rights, the veterans sued the city, ultimately having their case dismissed in December 2014 by a judge who ruled that since the flag was flown on a city flagpole, the government had ultimate say over what could be hoisted.

In their ruling, the three circuit judges who heard the case noted that, “we agree with the district court that, based on the pleadings in the complaint, the flagpole was owned and controlled by the City, and the flags displayed on the flagpole constituted government speech.

“Moreover, the flagpole was located in a public space used for park and recreation purposes, and a reasonable observer would think the flags were presenting a message from the City.”

In a brief statement, City Manager Chuck Strome III applauded the judge’s decision, adding, “we are once again gratified that the court system has sided with the City in agreeing to dismiss this claim.”

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