Chelsea City Council Adopts Flag Display Policy for Municipal Properties
The Chelsea City Council clarified the use of municipal flagpoles at its December 18th session by ratifying a comprehensive flag policy. The move comes after community members prompted the council to establish clear guidelines.
The proposed "City of Chelsea Flag Raising Policy" will institute a framework for flag displays on city property. The policy is shaped by the recognition that not all flags need to be accommodated on government flagpoles, aligning with the Supreme Court's interpretation of such displays as an expression of governmental speech.
Much of the new policy focuses on the display of guest flags and clarification of governmental speech.
The term "governmental speech" refers to the legal doctrine allowing the government to advance its own speech or policy without giving equal time to opposing viewpoints. (See source below).
In the context of the City of Chelsea’s flag policy, "governmental speech" implies that when the city raises a flag on its property, it is conveying a message or statement that is endorsed by the government. As such, while private individuals and organizations have certain free speech rights, the government has the authority to select which flags or symbols it will display, as these represent the government's own statements or values.
Under the new policy, the city will retain control over the selection of flags, ensuring they mirror the administration's official stance and are free from elements that could be seen as unsuitable or offensive. Chelsea’s policy states, “Every flag that flies on a City flagpole expresses the views of the City.”
The city council designated the Palmer Commons flagpole to be allocated for organizations or individuals who wish to have a "guest flag" hoisted, under certain conditions. Such guest flags will be confined to those associated with Presidential proclamations or sanctioned by a majority of the City Council.
Following the U.S. Flag Code, the policy mandates that the American flag shall be preeminent in any display. When national or state directives require, the American flag will be flown at half-staff, with no guest flag positioned above it. The policy also limits the display to a single guest flag at any given moment.
Any guest flag approved for display by the City Council will be deemed "governmental speech," thereby not constituting a limited public forum. This distinction ensures that the city's flagpoles do not serve as a platform for an unlimited range of expressions, maintaining a focus on civic and nationally recognized banners.
Because it's categorized as governmental speech, the government is not required to provide a platform for all viewpoints on its property; it can choose the messages it wants to endorse. This differs from a public forum, where the government typically cannot discriminate against speech based on its viewpoint.
Chelsea’s complete flag policy can be found in the council meeting packet. The friendly amendment designating the Palmer Commons flagpole for the use of guest flags can be heard in the council meeting video. Both are posted on the city’s website.
Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, Justia U.S. Supreme Court Center, https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/555/460/