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Flag Flying Illegal
April 14, 2003 10:49 PM   Subscribe

The city of Peoria, Arizona has a problem with a car dealership flying too many American flags. They have threatened thousands of dollars in fines and even jail time if the flags aren't removed. The perpetrator pleads guilty of patriotism.
posted by MrAnonymous (42 comments total)

 
Ah, the Institute for Justice! It's just sad that they had to take this case rather than the ACLU.

I'm glad to see IJ mentioned. For those who are unfamiliar with this small outfit, they are libertarian lawyers. It's a standard libertarian tenet that government regulations, which ostensibly protect consumers or advance the public interest, when examined closely often actually advance private interests, or protect one class of businessmen from competition by another. It is these regulations that IJ tilts against. Take a look at their 'Clients' page for some examples.

I give some money to IJ every year. Good people fighting a good fight. Why, I suspect that even some liberals could like these folks.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 11:17 PM on April 14, 2003


Why is it never judged "visual clutter" when used car lots hang the same number and size of flags-on-a-string in those garish neon colors?
posted by ArsncHeart at 11:38 PM on April 14, 2003


It's interesting to note that the author, Tom Liddy, of that article is the son of radio personality and Watergate scoundrel, G. Gordon Liddy.
posted by crunchland at 11:39 PM on April 14, 2003


Not me. I'm all for towns and cities restricting businesses from putting up gaudy decorations. And let's face it: this guy's flag banners are about as gaudy as they come. The community should have every right to restrict them, as long as the restriction is not content-based, which this one clearly is not. The main idea of these regulations is to prevent the town's main streets from turning into a sea of gigantic glowing golden arches and neon beer signs. This is unequivocally a good thing, IMO.

Plus, if this guy were really a patriot, he wouldn't be displaying flags like that anyway, since he is breaking just about every rule for proper display of the flag in the book.
posted by boltman at 11:39 PM on April 14, 2003


see the Flag Rules and Regulations (Sec. 8 in particular) for more info on that last point.
posted by boltman at 11:48 PM on April 14, 2003


From where I sit, it sure looks like he's more interested in "commercialism" than "patriotism"; using the flag like a logo to sell cars. It appears to be distasteful exploitation. Still, I would consider it his right to be mercenary.

A couple years back, someone in town built a new theatre complex and the city made them repaint it and tone down the color scheme (the council considered it garish). I understand their concern, but I've always felt it was an odd demand based on what could only be subjective whim.
posted by RavinDave at 11:51 PM on April 14, 2003


US Code, Title 36, Chapter 10, Section 176k: "The flag... should be destroyed... preferably by burning."
US Code, Title 36, Chapter 10, Section 177: "During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag... Aliens should stand at attention."

posted by eddydamascene at 12:05 AM on April 15, 2003


[/random]
posted by eddydamascene at 12:08 AM on April 15, 2003


At the same time, how silly is it that the city is actually considering sending him to prison?
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 12:10 AM on April 15, 2003


Section 6: However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed twenty-four hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.

So I hope he keeps his lights on at night.
posted by sebas at 1:43 AM on April 15, 2003


Does the Peoria statute fail this test?

"The constitutional gauge for restrictions on noncommercial speech is the time, place, or manner test: the government may impose reasonable time, place, or manner restrictions that incidentally burden speech if they are (1) content neutral, (2) narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, and (3) leave open 'ample alternative channels for communication of the information.' " (Outdoor Systems. Inc. v. City of Mesa)
posted by eddydamascene at 2:34 AM on April 15, 2003


From the same ruling:

"Whether either sign code, when viewed as a whole, is content neutral is a more difficult question. In Ward, the Supreme Court held that:
The principal inquiry in determining content neutrality ... is whether the government has adopted a regulation of speech because of disagreement with the message it conveys. The government's purpose is the controlling consideration. A regulation that serves purposes unrelated to the content of expression is deemed neutral, even if it has an incidental effect on some speakers or messages but not others. Government regulation of expressive activity is content neutral so long as it is justified [997 F.2d 615>>] without reference to the content of the regulated speech."

posted by eddydamascene at 2:41 AM on April 15, 2003


That's a good way to drive business out of your town ...
posted by pyramid termite at 2:47 AM on April 15, 2003


At least one car dealership on Route 128 around Boston has a gigantic American flag hoisted near their showroom. It's been flying there for as long as I can remember. Maybe someone can confirm, but I was under the impression that the flag in question is a "sign" for the auto dealership which, in essence, violates the restrcitions on height and size in the area.

Certainly it does not violate it in spirit though. It has lots of spirit! The Danes are obsessed with displaying their flag but never in such tacky fashion. This guy has reduced the flag to nothing more than those cheesy plastic, brightly colored flags that grace used car lots all across the United States of America. Remembers cheesy high school cheer... We got spirit yes we do, we got spirit how 'bout you!
posted by Dick Paris at 3:16 AM on April 15, 2003


> "The constitutional gauge for restrictions on noncommercial
> speech ..."

How does that apply, since this is obviously all about Move Your Goods With Patriotic Sell, i.e. (unmistakeably) commercial speech?
posted by jfuller at 5:07 AM on April 15, 2003


Why is it never judged "visual clutter" when used car lots hang the same number and size of flags-on-a-string in those garish neon colors?

I've often wondered the same thing about Tibetan prayer flags. You go to the most holy and scenic places in the Himalayas, and for all the flags it looks like some kinda crazy Texas loco guy seling used lemons. Ah, culcha.
posted by DenOfSizer at 5:21 AM on April 15, 2003


Geez...what if they were little flags that said "no war?"
posted by Durwood at 5:30 AM on April 15, 2003


Instiitute for Justice sounds like the title of a saturday morning cartoon. or AYBABTU. for great justice! move zig!
posted by quonsar at 6:01 AM on April 15, 2003


oh, and on-topic: a self-promoting used car salesman exploiting the deaths of innocents to enrich himself. yeah, right. i'd buy a car from that man. /not
posted by quonsar at 6:04 AM on April 15, 2003


If anything, I love the way this press release was written. I'm ready to sponsor this car salesman for only 17 cents a day.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:22 AM on April 15, 2003


I particularly liked the section about how you are never to use the flag as an advertisement, or a product to be sold. No t-shirts, no paper napkins, nothing. Most drug stores would go out of business if they actually followed the rules of etiquette. Not that they actually give a shit about such matters as national dignity.

Isn't it funny how those people so awash with patriotism are the ones who are the biggest desecrators of our national symbol?

One final observation: why is it that the more middle-class a country, the more "patriotic" it is (at least in their love of their flag)? Denmark, Belgium, the American Midwest, etc.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:36 AM on April 15, 2003


oh, and on-topic: a self-promoting used car salesman exploiting the deaths of innocents to enrich himself. yeah, right. i'd buy a car from that man.

Unreal. How the hell do you know what this guy's intentions are? Who are you? What insight do you have? Why does flying the flag mean you are "exploiting the deaths of innocents to enrich himself" ? Just unreal. I can't believe what I'm reading.
posted by fried at 7:18 AM on April 15, 2003


Unreal. How the hell do you know what this guy's intentions are? Who are you? What insight do you have? Why does flying the flag mean you are "exploiting the deaths of innocents to enrich himself" ? Just unreal. I can't believe what I'm reading.

Did you see the picture in the attached article? Flying 'the flag' is not the issue. The guy has hundreds of them strung along his lot. It's nothing more than tacky advertising.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:26 AM on April 15, 2003


This issue has absolutely nothing to do with patriotism! It isn't even about jingoism. Car dealers are notorious for pulling the exact stunt that this guy pulled. Signage laws in almost every city, county and state restrict the size and amount of signage a business may have, but these sleazy dealers put up flags to draw attention. The flags have nothing to do with how much they love America, they are signs. Signs that no elected zoning board that wants to keep their job is going to call them out for because the second that they do they get attacked for being unpatriotic and the IJ or ACLU or whatever group comes down on them. Good for Peoria for finally standing up to this sort of scummy abuse of our national symbols for some sleazy car dealers benefit! I feel insulted as a proud American whenever somebody hides behind false patriotism, I hope this scum bag does jail time.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:30 AM on April 15, 2003


1. It's tacky, ugly, and at least on the border of disrespectful, but the guy should have the right to be tacky, ugly, and disrespectful on his own property. Taste is tough to legislate.

2. Of course, I have the right to think the guy's a tool for doing it, just like I think it's pretty silly that Perkins flies gigantor flags as billboards at all of their locations (all of them in the upper Midwest, anyway). I make a point to try to avoid businesses that pull this crap.

3. IJ might want to think about getting someone a little less into the excited-junior-high-kid purple prose to write their articles. Liddy's just a bit melodramatic...
posted by COBRA! at 7:44 AM on April 15, 2003


In that case, what if it was a 600ft tall flag in the shape of a skyscraper? Better yet, what if they were Canadian or Iraqi flags?
posted by blue_beetle at 8:34 AM on April 15, 2003


I doubt Iraqi flags would sell many cars. (Even if bin Laden likes Hummers.)
posted by Vidiot at 9:05 AM on April 15, 2003


but the guy should have the right to be tacky, ugly, and disrespectful on his own property

What about the very real harm he's causing to his neighbors? They have to look at his tacky, disrespectful display every day. If they are businesses, he's probably driving their customers away. If they are residents, then he's probably lowering their property values. How is it any different than if he was blasting the star spangled banner at top volume all day?

The right to free speech does not exist in a vaccuum. It has to be balanced against other considerations, including the rights of neighbors to enjoy their land, and the right of communities to determine what kind of community they want to live it.
posted by boltman at 9:10 AM on April 15, 2003


I'm so tired of the equation "Flag Flying == Patriotism", and it's uglier cousin "5200 Flags == 5200 times more Patriotic than you, Peacenik!"

I always turn to the WWII generation, and how they reacted to times of war. True Patriotism would be making a real sacrifice, donating your time and/or money to a related cause, and conserving and recycling the vital resources that are the infrastructure of the war machine. Patriotism is not sticking a flag sticker you bought at Wal Mart to the back window of your Lincoln Navigator.

And it is definitely not flying hundreds of flags at a car dealership. If this guy were truly patriotic, he'd be doing more for the community, instead of the nation's latest lazy cop-out.
posted by thanotopsis at 9:10 AM on April 15, 2003


Vidiot -- Everybody likes hummers!
posted by Guy Smiley at 9:47 AM on April 15, 2003


uh, I'm gonna assume that link is NSFW?
posted by Vidiot at 10:09 AM on April 15, 2003


Ahh, the used car salesman, the CLASSIC American. The used car salesman stereotype: dishonest, competitive, anything-to-get-ahead, greedy, tasteless jerk, this is exactly what America stands for. He sells lemons, our country sells empty promises of prosperity.

Take a hike, Uncle Sam, America has a new mascot...
posted by zekinskia at 10:30 AM on April 15, 2003


Vid - No more so than, say, Details or Cosmo.
posted by Guy Smiley at 10:33 AM on April 15, 2003


I always turn to the WWII generation, and how they reacted to times of war. True Patriotism would be making a real sacrifice, donating your time and/or money to a related cause, and conserving and recycling the vital resources that are the infrastructure of the war machine.

Uh, thanotopsis, rationing everything from shoes to meat was mandated by the government and the the tire drives actually yielded very little usable material (thus the development of synthetic rubbers) but were more akin to pro-war pep rallies, so don't get fooled by the Tom Brokaw view of the "Greatest Generation Ever!!" Sure we pulled together a whole lot better and in more constructive ways then as opposed to now, but then again we didn't have embedded reporters taking live-streaming video of every confirmed kill, an educated, shoe clad populace or nearly as many complaints about government interference on our rights or commerce. Not that any of that (save maybe the educated, shoe clad populace) is better or worse, its just that times have changed and that on its own doesn't make the WWII generation any greater than those before or after it. Besides, if they were so great then why did there kids turn out to be the spoiled brat hippie turned spoiled brat SUV driving yuppie, you'd think they would have instilled some of their fantastic values in them, but no, they crapped out the 50's and the baby boomers instead, some generation!
posted by Pollomacho at 11:55 AM on April 15, 2003


It's apparent that prior to this gentleman's desire to flex his patriotism, there were laws in his community that restricted the use of any banner to such an extreme. The fact he's using the US Flag is irrelevant. It's not an attack of free speech to tell him to tone it down. There is a respectful way of showing one's patriotism, and this guy ain't doing it. He's just screaming for attention. The guy knew the laws prior to Nine Eleven. He's purposefully wrapping the flag around himself in an attempt to sell more cars, and crying foul if anyone dislikes it by pulling the patriot card. It's laughable and offensive. If he's not stopped, other companies might follow suit. If left unchecked, well, we know how ugly it could get.

If only there were such laws against the corporate abuse of Christmas.
posted by ZachsMind at 12:00 PM on April 15, 2003


I always turn to the WWII generation, and how they reacted to times of war. True Patriotism would be making a real sacrifice, donating your time and/or money to a related cause, and conserving and recycling the vital resources that are the infrastructure of the war machine.

Isn't not giving up anything itself a sacrifice? (hi bandwidth realmedia link)
posted by monkey.pie.baker at 12:26 PM on April 15, 2003


While American troops put their life on the line to liberate another country from a murderous dictator in the name of freedom, it is incredible that an American citizen, faced with criminal sanctions and incarceration, has to go to court to vindicate his right to fly the American Flag.

It is incredible that it's ok to censer anti-war or anti-Bush views.

Ah, the Institute for Justice! It's just sad that they had to take this case rather than the ACLU.

This would be a great for the ACLU to show conservative nuts that the ACLU's mission is to protect all peoples' rights (something most American just don't get). I wish the ACLU would at least write a friend of the court brief.

Frankly, Jason Simpson looks like a jingoistic nut and I'd like to hear the City Peoria's reasons for the law, but free speech is free speech.

Good points ZachsMind.
posted by Bag Man at 12:27 PM on April 15, 2003


Well, all you folks who showed all that passionate righteous constitutional indignation in the "T-shirt" thread not too long ago, here's your chance to shine again...

Free Speech trumps all, right?

Anybody? ...*cricket noise*
posted by dgaicun at 12:54 PM on April 15, 2003


There are signage laws, last I checked there weren't any T-Shirt laws governing 'peace on earth' slogans.

Nice try though.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:11 PM on April 15, 2003


If this idiot were making a statement other than, "buy my cars" then maybe I'd be a little more inclined to listen, but he's abusing our pride in our country, not showing his own. What he's doing shows far less respect for America than a flag burning demonstrator on the Gaza Strip! At least they are using the flag as a symbol of our nation rather than just a sleazy way to beat the system and advertise your car dealership in violation of very specific signage laws. This jackass has no respect for America or its symbols at all, its shameful, he only uses them for his own gain, shameful! I wonder how many flags he flies at home where they are less likely to attract customers?
posted by Pollomacho at 2:05 PM on April 15, 2003


Free Speech trumps all, right?

If I were the owner of, say, an adult bookstore, could I post a 20 foot billboard depicting graphic acts of sodomy on the front of my business?

If I owned a record store, would I be free to play Morbid Angel records at 100+ decibel volumes at 3 am to promote my products?

Communities regularly establish standards for the appearance of properties. Limits on free speech are regularly imposed and accepted for the public good. This is the social contract in action.

How would prohibitions on the obnoxious behaviors I suggested above be any more constitutional than the flag ban? Would you really like to live in a city where you are constantly assaulted by blaring death metal and oversized pictures of turgid genitals?

Whether the limited sacrifice of free expression is justified by freedom from visual nuisances in this case is up to the community to decide. It is certainly not a simple binary issue of free speech or censorship.

On another tangent, I find the capitalization of "flag" throughout the article vaguely disturbing.
posted by monkey.pie.baker at 2:36 PM on April 15, 2003


"There are signage laws, last I checked there weren't any T-Shirt laws governing 'peace on earth' slogans...Nice try though."

I'm sorry you fail to see the dilemma.

Ned Flanders (after hurricane destroys house & Leftorium): Rev. Lovejoy, with all that's happened, I kinda feel like Job.

Rev. Lovejoy: Don't be silly ned, everybody knows that Job was right-handed.

posted by dgaicun at 2:45 PM on April 15, 2003


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