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LETTER: Pride Flag is a David and Goliath story

In a letter to MyRye.com, Rye resident Sue Drouin says the Pride flag is “a David and Goliath story”.

Drouin is a working mom of three in the Rye City Schools, and a past co-president of the Osborn School PTO. She is a six-year member of Rye Sustainability Committee, and is on the Steering and Outdoor Committees to preserve and protect the Knapp House for the Rye Historical Society. She is also a gardener and landscape designer in Rye and the surrounding area.

Sue DrouinWednesday night I celebrated the council’s unanimous decision to raise the Pride flag over Rye City Hall this and every June.

As I reflect on statements made by council members regarding the retaining of outside counsel at a cost of $10,000 seeking First Amendment guidance, I felt I must come forward. This is truly a David and Goliath story. The flag never would have been permitted to fly in the City of Rye had it not been for the tenacity of a handful dedicated Rye citizens, mostly kids, whose community rallied around them until the council decided their own stalling was unbearable. Council attempts to hide their delay behind spurious legal arguments will not be tolerated, because legal scholars agree that flying a Pride flag on government property is “government speech” and so the council would never have been forced to fly another flag without choosing to do so.

As a resident of the City of Rye, a dedicated volunteer in many capacities for my city, schools and community groups, and an observer of the proceedings on the issue, my heart goes out to any member of our community looking to be acknowledged and supported. I would like the attached memo from the New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) to be read by all, especially the kids. Rye was at a crossroads, and the choice to fly a rainbow flag was entirely in their hands. Indeed we knew it all along.

The official agenda item of the April 21 council meeting reads: “Hiring of First Amendment counsel with respect to possible Pride flag raising and other matters.” Other towns in Westchester, communities across the country, and even Secretary of State Antony Blinken authorized U.S. diplomatic outposts around the world to fly the Pride flag. When asked why raising the flag here would be different, the mayor said, “This question is about a variety of First Amendment issues, to the extent the Pride flag is involved is the trigger for our perception of the need for a general view on flag raisings.” The kids asked for more information and the council said that unsavory flag flyers would soon be on their doorstep. This is simply false. Nevertheless, discussion of needing a policy ensued. The council voted to retain Sokoloff and Stern as outside legal counsel.

Many left the meeting wondering why the extra legal scrutiny was warranted, in light of the fact that many other municipalities in our jurisdiction were already flying a Pride flag. They went off in search of legal answers. In the meantime, there was a huge groundswell of support – kids started a petition, people wrote more emails and letters, including county and state representatives, and the press covered the issue. In a CBS interview on April 30, the mayor said a religious group could come forward to request their flag be flown. However, the law is very settled on this question. Rich existing case law proves that government choices for flags are completely up to the governing body. First Amendment scholars agree, a government can choose to fly whatever flag they wish to fly at their discretion. They are not compelled to fly any others – thanks to the Shurtleff vs. City of Boston decision, and many others before it.

In fact, the NYCLU offered a memo, which is attached to this [letter]. It says, “As long as the City keeps and has kept control of what flags it wishes to fly, what is flown on the flagpole is the “speech” of the City of Rye. It may fly whatever flags it wishes and decline to fly those it does not wish to fly.”

Fast forward to Wednesday’s council meeting, when some new reasons for retaining counsel were presented, like mailboxes in the right-of-way, and car parades to Playland. These issues were never even mentioned at previous council meetings, and not written in the resolution to retain legal counsel, but now somehow the public should accept that these were the real issues for a delay, with the Pride flag was just along for the ride?

The NYCLU memo concludes:
Does the City of Rye wish to fly the rainbow flag in support of LGBT rights or not? Deciding to
do so will not obligate it to fly any other flag. The NYCLU urges the Council to adopt the resolution.

I applaud the members of the community who stepped forward, many out of their comfort zone, in support of this effort. The students led the way with righteous determination, and that is why we will see the Pride flag on government property in Rye this and every June.

1 COMMENT

  1. Mrs. Drouin,

    The City Council asked legal counsel to provide clarity on the boundaries it has (or does not have) to permit cause-related groups to place their symbols on City property. The review included such things as the issuing of parade permits, authorizing the flying flags and banners, and so on. Neither you nor I are “First Amendment Scholars”. The Council was simply being prudent in seeking expert opinion on these matters during an era when litigation is as common as high-tide twice a day at the beach.

    There was an additional matter regarding the Pride Flag, and that was whether it or any other cause-related display should be permitted on a war memorial.

    City Council was thorough and prudent in its process and its decision. They should be commended.

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