By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Several of my neighbors regularly display the American flag. Some hang bunting on their front porches, or set up patriotic lawn statues of soldiers. The displays generally go up before Memorial Day, and come down sometime after Labor Day, although a few neighbors have a flag pole suitable for year round display.
There is no HOA in my immediate neighborhood, and quite a few of my neighbors have retired from service in the U.S. military.
For Veterans and family of military members deployed around the world, the American flag is a heartfelt symbol of freedom and hope. It’s not just a holiday decoration.
But to some on the homeowners association board of the Village at Towne Lake, Woodstock, Georgia, the American flag would disrupt the aesthetic appeal of the neighborhood, if residents were to display a flag year round. The HOA recently mailed a letter to each homeowner, explaining their new policy: the flag can only be displayed on 23 designated holidays.
When I first read this headline, I wondered if it was a hoax.
23 days: Woodstock HOA puts limits on displaying US flag
Kaitlyn Ross, WXIA 7:19 PM. EDT May 23, 2017 (11 Alive)
WOODSTOCK, GA – Some Woodstock residents are furious with their homeowners’ association after being told they can only display the US flag 23 days a year.
The HOA at the Village at Towne Lake sent an email to residents explaining that they could only fly the flag on specific holidays. That didn’t fly well with some residents.
“By limiting it to holidays, he’s equating it to Christmas lights. You put your Christmas lights up at Christmas, you fly your flag on this holiday,” said one resident. “The flag is an everyday thing.”
They said they’ve displayed flags since the day they moved in — some for more than a decade, and now they’re being told to take them down.
Read more (video):
Homeowners and residents cannot figure out how their HOA can get away with telling them when they can and cannot display the American flag. After all, there is a federal law that is supposed to make it illegal for an association-governed community association to prohibit display of the American flag.
While there is a law, it contains exceptions that allow HOAs a considerable amount of control of when, where, and how the American flag can be displayed.
Here is the relevant excerpt of the ‘‘Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005’’.
SEC. 4. LIMITATIONS. Nothing in this Act shall be considered to permit any display or use that is inconsistent with— (1) any provision of chapter 1 of title 4, United States Code, or any rule or custom pertaining to the proper display or use of the flag of the United States (as established pursuant to such chapter or any otherwise applicable provision of law); or (2) any reasonable restriction pertaining to the time, place, or manner of displaying the flag of the United States necessary to protect a substantial interest of the condominium association, cooperative association, or residential real estate management association.
The American Flag Act is a perfect example of a law that looks helpful in protecting Constitutional rights of homeowners and residents of HOAs. But in reality, the law has the opposite effect of limiting rights. You see, the law only provides for display of the American flag. That means your HOA can decide all other types of flags are off limits.
And take special note of the last part of the Act. It allows association governed communities to create “reasonable” restrictions as to “time, place or manner” that is “necessary to protect a substantial interest” of the association.
So you can see how easy it is for the HOA to cross the line, because who decides what is a “reasonable” restriction? Who decides that the restriction is “necessary?”
In an association-governed community, that would be the board, the same individuals who have the authority to make rules governing aesthetic standards.
Homeowners could certainly argue that the 23-day restriction is unreasonable, and that restricting flag displays is not necessary to prevent the Village at Towne Lake from looking unattractive.
But if the HOA board chooses not to listen to its members, and insists upon imposing fines for breaking the rules, what are homeowners to do?
Homeowners fight back
Well, in this case, Village at Towne Lake homeowners have decided to keep their flags on display, defying HOA rules. In fact, Fox News 5 in Altanta reports that the Optimist Club has supplied dozens of additional flags for neighboring homes.
Neighbors outraged after HOA issues American Flag limitations
By: Natalie Fultz (Fox5 Atlanta)
POSTED: MAY 23 2017 05:52PM EDT
UPDATED: MAY 25 2017 11:08PM EDT
CHEROKEE COUNTY, Ga. – Residents in a Cherokee County neighborhood are outraged after they said their homeowners’ association imposed limitations to the flying of the American Flag by residents. On Thursday, the community put up even more flags.
“You don’t mess with my flag,” Tom Wilder said.
Wilder spent six years in the U.S. Navy. The flag he fought to defend flies proudly outside his home in the Village at Towne Lake. Recently, Wilder and every other resident in the community received an email from the HOA limiting the number of days the American Flag can be displayed outside their homes.
“They are giving us 23 days to display it,” Wilder said. “Now we won’t be able to even put it in the ground. It has to be in a flag holder attached to our houses.”
Read more (Video):
In other words, homeowners are staging a peaceful protest!
That certainly beats organizing a group of residents to sue the HOA board for flaunting their authority in a way that seems unnecessary and unreasonable.
Hopefully, the sheer number of homeowners uniting in this cause will convince the HOA board to back off of their very unpopular new flag display policy.
UPDATE: Two homeowners interviewed on Fox Business Network:
GA veterans fight for their right to display American flags in their community