25 Investigates: American flag fight prompts new legislation

By: Eric Rasmussen

Updated:

LEOMINSTER, Mass. - Two state lawmakers from Massachusetts have filed legislation to protect the rights of condo owners to fly the American flag after a 25 Investigates report in July.

Condo owner Liz Heller first contacted 25 Investigates after receiving a $60 fine from the condo board for Liberty Commons in Leominster. The violation cited Heller for displaying a “prohibited personal item” for three days leading up to the Fourth of July. The prohibited item in question was an American flag hanging from her front door.

>>PREVIOUS25 Investigates: Woman fined for hanging American flag on her front door

While members of the condo board and property managers at Liberty Commons did not respond to repeated requests for comment from 25 Investigates, an attorney for the board sent an e-mail saying Heller was fined because she “failed to obtain permission from the board” before displaying the flag on her door.

“It’s the American flag,” Heller said in July. “You should be able to do what you want, fly it whenever you want.”

The dispute caught the attention of State Representatives Natalie Higgins, (D) Leominster, and John Velis, (D) Westfield. The two lawmakers have filed legislation aimed at further protecting the rights of condo owners to display the American flag, the flag of Massachusetts, and military flags.

“To hang the flag on your own property, on your own front door – I think there should be some leeway to be able to do that, especially on a holiday weekend,” said Higgins.

Congress passed the federal Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005, but 25 Investigates found nearly a dozen other states passed their own legislation to stop condo boards or other associations from barring residents from flying the American flag.

“I understand when you buy a condo there’s a general agreement to the aesthetics of the place, but that shouldn’t be in the face of being able to fly an American flag,” said Higgins, who says she’s hopeful the bill that she and Velis authored will get widespread support from others in the state legislature.

“I think it’s kind of a no-brainer,” said Higgins. “It’s something that already exists in the federal law. It’s just making sure our laws are backing that up.”

25 Investigates reached out to Liberty Commons condo board president, Steve Stearns, again Thursday, but when Investigative Reporter Eric Rasmussen asked Stearns why he issued the fines over the display of the American flag, Stearns did not respond.

However, minutes from a recent condo board meeting show Stearns and the board stood by their actions. The meeting notes blamed a “misrepresentation of facts” for “close to $3,000 in legal (public relations) expenses” after the first 25 Investigates report in July.

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