After approving two controversial flag requests, Bristol adopts a new flag policy

By Scott Pickering
Posted 7/2/20

Minutes after approving a controversial request to fly a first-responders flag for two weeks over Independence Park, the Bristol Town Council voted unanimously to approve a newly-devised flag policy …

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After approving two controversial flag requests, Bristol adopts a new flag policy

Posted

Minutes after approving a controversial request to fly a first-responders flag for two weeks over Independence Park, the Bristol Town Council voted unanimously to approve a newly-devised flag policy for outside groups asking to hang flags on town property.

The flag policy discussion came several weeks after the council took the unprecedented step of allowing a Black Lives Matter flag to fly above Bristol Town Hall for most of June. Prior to that June decision, the town had never authorized a special-interest flag to hang on a town flagpole, nor had it allowed a guest flag to fly longer than 24 hours.

The town’s tradition has been to predominantly fly the U.S. and Rhode Island flags, along with the POW/MIA flag. Exceptions were granted for visiting heads of state, like a dignitary from the Azores, or for specific causes, like a flag to commemorate the Armenian genocide. In those cases, the town had always granted permission to hang the flag for one day.

Then came the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota and a groundswell of social unrest across the country. In response to passionate calls to honor the Black Lives Matter movement and signify openness and equality in Bristol, the council unanimously broke precedent and gave permission for that flag to fly over Town Hall in June.

During that meeting, both the town’s legal counsel and Town Council Chairman Nathan Calouro warned that they were violating past practice, but Mr. Calouro ultimately voted to support the Black Lives flag.

For the council’s next meeting, held Wednesday night, July 1, the council had a draft policy for handling future flag requests, but it already had one of those requests on its agenda. First the council held a lengthy public comment period and discussion over the first-responders request — eventually approving that request 4-1 — and then it unanimously adopted a policy for all future requests.

The new policy requires outside groups to submit a petition with at least 250 signatures from Bristol residents (to be verified by town voter rolls), and it restricts requests to only “federally-recognized flags.” In addition, the policy states that such flags, if approved by the council, would be permitted for one day, and only once a year. So by the guidelines of the new policy, neither the Black Lives Matter flag or the "first responders" flag would have been approved as they were, or for the duration they were.

The policy further states that the town will not display flags deemed “inappropriate or offensive in nature”; “supporting discrimination or prejudice”; “in support of a politician or political party”; or supporting a “religious denomination.”

Applicants may be required to pay custodial or other costs, including police detail fees, depending on the scale of a flag-raising event.

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