Batavia considers policy on displaying flags at city hall

Batavia City Council members are poised to adopt a policy to govern what flags will fly on poles outside the city hall.

The move comes after a resident asked the city to fly a Sacred Heart of Jesus flag.

Bob McQuillan asked the city council on May 14 to consider flying the flag. The next day, administrative analyst Max Weiss wrote a memo containing a proposed flag ordinance.

City Administrator Laura Newman said during a committee of the whole meeting Tuesday that the city should have such a policy to make it clear the flagpoles are not a public forum. They are for government speech. Having a policy so could help the town avoid legal challenges, she said.

Newman noted a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2022 about flag-flying in support of having a policy.

In that case, the court ruled that Boston’s flag-flying program did not express government speech but was akin to a public forum, and an employee’s refusal to allow a group to fly a Christian flag during a ceremony at a public plaza violated the group’s free-speech rights. Boston had let private groups fly various flags 284 times at the plaza, and only rejected the religious flag.

“I unknowingly poked the bear on May 14,” McQuillan said Tuesday. He questioned the speed with which city staff proposed the ordinance. “Let’s pull back the curtain and see why the new policy is being written so quickly.”

On June 3, the mayor and other city officials raised a Pride flag, also known as a Unity flag. McQuillan said he never spoke negatively about the Pride flag.

Catholics observe the Feast of the Sacred Heart in June. The Sacred Heart of Jesus flag has been in the national news lately after the wife of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito was secretly recorded saying she wanted to fly one to counter a Pride flag flying near their home.

Aldermen discussed what the procedure would be to request flying a flag. Newman said it would be the same as now: Ask a city official, and the council votes on a proclamation of support for the cause. Batavia has three flagpoles, with room on each pole for several flags. It permanently displays the U.S. flag, the state flag, a prisoners of war/missing in action flag and a city flag.

Two aldermen voted against the policy in committee. Alderman Tim Lancy said the simplest thing to do would be “no flags get flown except for government flags.” Alderman George Ajazi agreed.

“What if somebody wants to fly the Confederate flag under the U.S. flag?” Lancy said. “I think we just opened up a can of worms. Fly your flag on your own private property.”

McQuillan is a longtime observer of local government. When he lived in Geneva, he founded a group that studied and criticized spending by the Geneva school district. He ran for Geneva mayor and sought a Republican nomination for a state legislative seat.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.