Hamilton 3rd Party Flag Policy

by Barbara A. Smith,

Blogger and Social Justice Activist


I’m sharing the discussion on 3rd party flag policy from the Hamilton Select Board Meeting on April 19, 2022. The closed captioning on the following video was not enabled, so I was unable to copy the transcript. However, I did my best to listen and transcribe in order to make the discussion transparent and increase awareness.

Please let me know if I made any transcribing errors . I put my comments in purple and italics and include quotes from relevant links in blue.

My position is that

  1. Flags (other than the United State or state government flags) are unnecessary, divisive and discussion is a waste of taxpayer time and money.
  2. The Select Board officials are not elected to dictate Hamilton morality . The are elected to implement the rules and regulations decided by residents via town wide elections.
  3. I am against policies supported by the Hamilton Wenham Human Rights Coalition such as this because they are an overinfluential political lobby that bullies voices of dissent (my experience and observation).

The discussion begins at 1:20:49 on the following Youtube vide.


Shawn Farrell: At the moment the current policy states that only flags approved are federal, state proclamations etc.

Jamie Knudsen: Well, that’s the draft, not the actual policy

Bill Olsen: There’s no flag policy, there’s an application policy…. We currently have no policy. We looked at this months and months ago and we looked at a couple of options…. an application process, petition, simplifying it so that if its not a federal or state proclamation or a recognized holiday then we wouldn’t look at those flags and then the Supreme Court case – we tabled everything until the case….now we are up to June, again…. and we do not want to be in a situation where we don’t support our state and federal proclamations, so we need to address it…. so, we do not need a positive vote on things, we need a majority vote. we need to be clear on town policy.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday seemed prepared to rule that the city of Boston was wrong when it refused to let an organization fly a Christian flag in front of city hall.” https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/supreme-court/supreme-court-review-boston-s-refusal-fly-christian-flag-city-n1287467

Bill: sorry, You are in favor of going back to anybody, trying to interpret… anybody can send an application, who can come and what can they put on the application.

Caroline Beaulieu: I wonder if its not necessarily so much a policy so much as a statement of consideration. Anyone can ask us to fly any flag…but i think the question here is that government speech.. we are the arbiters of government speech in this town, right? … we are the ones who were elected to decide government speech. I feel like a policy is a really tough thing, because there’s a lot of of nuance, that isn’t going to be captured by policy…. but what we can say is that there are considerations that we can decide precedence, alignment to the town values, adherence to federal and state laws, consideration of federal proclamations and holiday that goes into decision making, but it is a discretionary act at the end of the day by elected officials in a town, what government speech is… and that may change based on who the government officials are, there may be different government officials a year from now who feel differently , but I think a policy is a dangerous path at this point, I’m not saying that’s my final policy but i wonder if any policy is going to capture the nuance .

Barbara’s comments: Actually, the essential governmental body of our direct democracy is our Hamilton Legislature; the Select Board can make policy for in-house processes such as financial and human resources and purchasing/requisitions, etc. But, for policies that are affecting all residents directly, then it really must go to Town Meeting; the SB cannot usurp the power of the Hamilton Legislature when we meet at Town Meetings.

If the SB is so determined to take power from the people and make these decisions, even though they are out of their lane, the SB can be easily overridden by citizen petitions that are brought to the Legislature at Town Meeting. That is the power of the people to act as checks and balances on the Executive branch. The members of the SB need to know their place, which is to execute Town Meeting mandates.

Tom Myers: I agree with Caroline, I’ll be interested to see what the the Supreme Court has to say on this, because if you listen they kind of infer that there is a way to do this that is the right way so to speak….. So we can hold off for now, where we can wait to see the supreme court case decision is later in the spring… we can hold off, see what that decision is get guidance on how we might have a policy….at least for now…

Bill: the chat is closed:

Barbara: It is not the job of the Select Board members to decide what our town VALUES are…

Jamie: I was going to respond sort of indirectly to Bill’s question…., for now, here is your channel to ask for a flag raising …that doesn’t stop people from asking but ultimately it’s us, we should see the decisions that we make as the government to inform…the public should be able to comment….

Bill: I think that we might, my opinion is that we should not do a policy ? but that’s a policy, ? rules and regs… that’s semantics, rules and policy. the whole reason we spent time on this is because i did think it was important to not put it in just in our hands of the Select Board because in the future, later 5 or 10 , 20 years we will have different members. We are trying to set parameters ground rules, that the select board is approving that we are conforming to a policy, not just agreeing with the politics or the right of the flag, so what we put in here as sort of guardrails, so there are 2 ways to do this. 1)…a state or federal state or proclamation or 2). lets get signatures, its important to the town….. a consensus. so its not just down to us… so there is a state consensus, or a local consensus with about 25 signatures, that was my compromise… i think its important to take it out of our hands of us being the ones to decide, to be more of a community thing… we are the ones to regulate what falls within our policy….

Barbara: It seems to me that requiring only 25 signatures will not create a valid consensus. Rather bringing this to a town meeting for a vote would be more inclusive and hence, more Democratic than letting 25 petition signers make these decisions.

Jamie: so , i think that sounds reasonable, except to the extent that, it makes it, it really does rest with us as the government. im not saying that we wouldn’t develop a short policy …possibly, but…. i think that we need to be careful to own the decision, as the body, makes the decision. according to this we have a de facto seeming right to have the flag and some of it is that in some of the requests seem to be more like proving a point rather than reflecting community values. The word “proclamation could open it up to a lot of things where we get frivolous requests.

Barbara: Its subjective whether flag requests reflect “town values” or are frivolous requests. Jamie and the other members of the Select Board should not be determining your, my or the community’s values. Jamie and the BOS may view requests for the Gadsen or Right to Life flags as frivolous and the request to fly a Christian flag in Boston worthy of a Supreme Court decision. This is insulting to atheists such as myself and any minority group that does not want a town to dictate their values. I consider this a violation of human rights. This is one of the many indications that the Hamilton Wenham Human Rights Coalition favors faith based followers at the expense of opposing views and values.

Christian flags flown in public spaces violates the human rights of atheists.

Caroline: are we talking about policy for whether it is even considered or whether policy decides whether it even flies. Because I think that those are 2 really very different things. I can agree that there are stage gates by which we can say that If its a hand drawn picture of a flag its not… like.. its a waste of everyone’s time…. to even consider it… but what if stage gates, my concern is that if you have a policy where you meet all these things, you can fly it. I looked at state regs and I worry that there’s a gray area, to say that – it doesn’t allow , it gets into the area of people not truly understanding the nuances of it being government speech on a flagpole in town.

Barbara: Hamilton should avoid this confusion (what is a state gate, anyway, see below?) by simply not flying any non US or state flags….. its simple and fair. This discussion is a waste of everyone’s time and taxpayers are footing the bill for time spent on this topic that does nothing but divide.

What is a stage gate? (I never heard of this term…..)

A stage gate (sometimes called a phase gate) is a project management technique, ideal for large organizations with projects that involve large teams, multiple departments and numerous stakeholders. Typically, stage gates break up large projects into a series of stages with gates between them, with decision points or stages along the way. At each of these points, work is reviewed to decide whether the project is able to move to the next stage. 

Tom: I think that we are toying around with this idea of public forum vs the government speech…we have to be pretty solid in where we land .. at least what im reading on the Boston case… we have to be firm that it is government speech. It has to be a government approved message, we have to make sure that this is government approved speech not subject to public forums… that we are comfortable sending it. where the city of Boston case lands, is whether its a public forum we have to make sure that if its a government speech that we have that control over it. so i think that wherever this policy lands we have to make sure that a government or state proclamation is one step in the process but like everyone alluded to that there are a number of proclamations that we might not want to raise a flag on…. a state sponsored…. something (surf?) boarding day… it may not be a message. We have to have something tie into proclamations and an important message, some language …whether government speech or public forum we have to determine……

Barbara: I think Tom is saying that he wants his voice, dictating morality and what flags represent Hamilton’s morality is more important than the public’s forum…or voice. He wants to be the decider of what constitutes an important message. This sounds very patronizing to me.

Shawn: for me , Im leaning toward if it flies at the white house or statehouse, its OK, maybe we can move away from flags? say for example, in Wenham they lit up town hall, maybe some other mechanism, we don’t have to fly the Juneteenth flag, but can think outside the box, and controversy to fly so many things, we will have more requests and opposing sanctions in town, one month one thing, one month another thing, that’s the sticky thing.

Barbara: I appreciate that Shawn recognizes valid, less controversial and more equitable options to express support for non-flag options to celebrating Pride and Juneteenth events.

Bill: I like flags, absolutely, but is it worth the risk we would take by having the policy too open, that we debate for too long…also we are dealing with the supreme court case, its not decided yet… it would be something where we don’t have a pressing debate until after that. We can keep it really simple or not do it at all.

Shawn: another option… We can have another flag pole in Patton park. that can be the “free speech” pole, not “government speech pole”. it wouldn’t be at Town Hall.

Barbara: if there is another flag pole in Patton Park, we continue to have the situation of the Board of Select thinking that they should determine which flags are frivolous and which are worthy of representing the “values of Hamilton”.

Jamie: thats really problematic….

Tom: if its a public forum, we can put any kind of flag.

Shawn: it opens up a whole can of worms

Barbara: Yes, a can of worms such as the Right to Life flag!!!

Do the faith-based, Hamilton Human Rights Commission followers on the Select Board have the moral authority to decide Hamilton values and what flags to fly or should they stick to discussion permits, trash pickup issues and town financial business?

Virginia (from public) I listened to this problematic situation last year and I think that government should fly US, state, Hamilton town flag because we can upset people, something might be political, not appropriate, because some organizations, whatever.. it should be for the town, we should erect another pole in Patton Park with a public pole to be used for anything we want… the town flag pole should be only government flags and not have controversy.

Tosh: (from public) as you know we have been talking about this for a while, interesting stuff with impending supreme court case, we have an ad hoc policy .. one thing is if we are piece meal picking this flag that flag we will have the perception of favoritism. we want to represent all of the town, board member Beulieu is going beyond what government speech is… we want to represent all of the town. Government speech saying who we are as a community is going beyond what government speech is… its pushing things, tribalism. it wouldn’t represent the community, just the majority.. its not fair to people in the minority. it would offend a lot of people, why are we putting up a flag that some people don’t want to see. Deciding not to have a flag will avoid having to pick and choose or keep it simple, American, state flag, and keep it open to everybody, avoiding controversial, it would be equitable. we don’t want political favoritism. its not good municipal government.

Barbara: there is absolutely an issues of favoritism when choosing which flags to fly or whether to fly any flags at all….. This is an issue that can be removed from municipal government so that officials can focus on what matters to voters- science based development that protects the environment, increasing business tax revenues, improving school standing.

Shawn: i guess, a side comment, political vs. whatever, for some people pride flag , junetenth flag seems more human rights than political but a lot of people beg to differ. Things get politicized, skewed, there’s another layer into that depending on what the flag is being requested.

Tosh: the pride and Juneteenth flags are controversial. Its a very politically charged decision. All the flag requests are problem going to be political. Political is not necessarily bad, but it should be equitable. Just going with the majority in my opinion is not great for government.

Barbara: As part of the non-faith based minority in Hamilton I want my human rights respected, as an atheist. When I moved to Hamilton 25 years ago, there was prayer performed by a clergyman at town meeting. I was dismissed by the BOS when I complained about my rights being tread on…. Please think about vulnerable minorities such as atheists who simply ask for adherence to the Constitution’s separation of church and state.

Ann Brady: chair of the town formed human rights commission. I just want to clarify a couple of things. Government speech to my knowledge is how the government wants to represent itself and what it wants to say. So this is a decision that the select board wants to say as it faces .these decisions going forward. Something thats been kind of blurred in the discussion here is that the requests for the Pride and Juneteenth flags were not 3rd party requests. They came from the town Commission in recognition of a federal holiday, the Juneteenth holiday. It is not a political request. It happens to be a holiday that has a flag that represents it. Pride is a nationally recognized month that exists to acknowledge the human right that people should be respected no matter what their sexual orientation. Its not raised as a political statement. It’s federally recognized as the month of June, as Pride month. Raising those 2 flags are ways of showing that we are keeping with the state and federal holiday of Juneteenth and that we are a welcoming community no matter who you are. and that we are a safe place no matter who you are and that we celebrate people no matter who they are.. The request did not come from outside of our government. We represented the case for lifting the moratorium against flying any flag other than the American due to the fact that we coming up upon Pride and Juneteenth. We presented the case last May. I want to have these 2 situations held separate from flag requests because I think it is a completely different situation.

Barbara: the government leaders represent, us, the voters and not the values of town officials. The voters determine policy by voting at town meetings and the BOS has the job of implementing those choices. The Hamilton Human Rights Commission is pro religion biased since Jamie Knudsen, a vocal Christian advocate is the liaison between the BOS and the Commission. The Commission lacks diversity in values, ethnicity, race, atheistic beliefs and religion. It is not representative of the town residents. I favor expressing support for all protected, vulnerable classes (including atheists) by having optional celebrations, flag holding, lights, speakers, whatever . That is a demonstration of free speech as opposed to forcing indoctrination and BOS Coalition followers values on an entire community.

Shawn: Thank you, I think that puts it back into context. It wasn’t a 3rd party, it was our own government. I want to bring up the requests for 3rd party flags, the Gadsden and Prolife flags.

Jamie: I just want to dovetail off what Ann said, we did make a decision last year, for the most part Unanimously ?? again . To Tosh’s point, its not every single person in the community, but honestly its been very well received and celebrated in that sense and now a decision against that is meaningful. The easiest thing is to say that we aren’t flying any flag… but the weight of that weighs heavily on me and the precedent that we set, and because its a human rights issue. It doesn’t mean that human rights are the only reason flags get flown… Now to make a statement different from that is problematic from a human rights standpoint.

Barbara: Two out of five of the previous Board of Select members expressed dissent for spending all this time and creating division over flag flying. Nothing was “for the most part unanimous” . Its a human rights issue that the current HWHRCoalition, faith based influenced members do NOT tread on the rights of minorities such as myself a woman and an atheist. I want and deserve the same protections as any other vulnerable and victimized group. It is not problematic to honor my human rights.

Caroline: I think, also that just because something is politicized does not mean that it is inherently political and to the point of government speech… the federal government of the United States of America believes in the rights of people regardless of sexual orientation that is the perspective of our government. . Whether you personally have a belief system that varies from that I don’t really entertain the argument that that is not government speech just because you personally disagree. But the United States government in fact, does believe that, to Jamie’s point, specifically, a lot of the conversations we have been having intensely in this town, it does send the message that to not fly those flags. Im not suggesting that you make decisions based on a PR nightmare, but I think that there are many friends and neighbors and children in our schools that would be adversely affected if we decided that as a town, we decided not to fly that flag. I would not feel good or sleep well at night, knowing that we have made that choice.

Barbara: Treading on my rights to be free of flags that the government flies to indoctrinate is inherently political and unethical. My belief system is equally valid to protect and not just a “belief system” that Caroline dismisses. It is a PR nightmare when BOS members elected to implement policy chosen by the voters, want to force their individual morality on an entire community. The discussion belongs in homes, churches and youth groups, not in government. I can’t sleep well ever when officials want to force their values on me……

Tom: I agree with Caroline and Jamie. Its important to send a message about the Pride and Juneteenth message…. My concern is more about the policy itself and the language of that policy just looking at the Boston policy where they are looking at every word . I don’t want to adopt a policy and several months down the road find ourselves in a civil litigation going over every word. We will have some guidance after the Supreme Court, its better served for our purposes that we don’t have to revisit this and make some tweaks.

Barbara: I see that Tom is an attorney and is aware that this flag discussion may be treading on our Constitutional rights of separation of church and state. There is a movement toward tearing down that wall that protects, atheists such as myself and the current Supreme Court is packed with Conservatives who apparently want to move in that direction. We will see how the Supreme Court chooses to handle the case against the city of Boston, but the final decision does not necessarily indicate that the ruling will be ethical, constitutional or even legal. Hamilton can do better by proving that we live in a town that honors the constitution, separation of church and state and Democracy. That separation protects religious people as well as non-religious…. Please do not demonize people like me who are passionate about these values…..

Bill: I don’t want to go backwards. We have to try to come up with a compromise.

Shawn: My suggestion is to keep it status quo kind of a moratorium but include flags that we have previously flown, Pride and Juneteenth flags. Jamie has volunteered to work on the policy and we are waiting for a report.

Barbara: Our tax money paying salaries of town officials should not be spent on working on these morality policies. Please focus instead on implementing policy chosen by the people (Hamilton’s legislature) that impacts the entire community such as increasing the business taxes, controlling runaway home real estate taxes, improving the schools academic standing, protecting the environment and long term planning to create affordable housing using science based evidence on the impact on density, traffic, water quality. Lets discuss building a downtown complex where the Winthrop school is located rather than ripping up country roads far from town center. That is a discussion worthy of town leader’s time …..

Bill: Historically, we have been flying flags for the last 24 months. These are the only flags we have flown. We have requests to the Gadsden flag and Right to Life flag. Its not like we have a hundred requests…. Its not like we have to fly a hundred flags tomorrow. We need guardrails…. We have another couple of weeks to make decisions. We can hear from the public and then decide what to do.

Barbara: There will be more requests for flags and you can eliminate this time sink by simply not flying non-governmental flags. Let’s talk about creating more bicycle lanes and other pieces of infrastructure that also benefits pedestrians, strollers, older folks with walkers etc. and discuss how to make the Town Hall ADA compliant because currently it is not accessible.

Jamie: sooner rather than later. It’s been a consideration for a while. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will decide over the next few weeks and I know that the School Committee attorney says that its unlikely to affect …..

Barbara Smith: Are Hamilton residents pay for attorneys to deal with these flag issues??? What a waste of our tax monies……

Tosh: The policy as it is is at the discretion of the Board. Id like to request the Gadsden flag be flown on July 4th. I would like to make that request……

Shawn: Jamie, if you want to start putting something together. We have some homework to dig deep….

Barbara: Our tax monies are being spent for Jamie to do some deep digging, what a waste of time…..

Bill: just so that we have closure. My hesitancy is not about flying the flag , its about doing it in the right way, to feel good about it. After the policy, we can decide….

Shawn: We have some requests in front of us. Since we don’t have the current policy yet, we have to make decisions on those requests and second then make policy pending on the Supreme Court and then align it at some point if the SCOTUS is going to affect us ….

Bill: and the 3rd party flag policy. Three entities can request a flag- a nonprofit, a town board or committee, a resident…

Barbara: In conclusion, the BOS has to spend our tax dollars studying the 3rd party flags, creating policies for nonprofits, a town board or committee and resident to request flying a flag and continue this divisive and nonproductive discussion. The solution is easy> Tell the BOS to work on issues that improve the quality of life in Hamilton, for all residents without moralizing or indoctrinating. This includes:

  1. increasing and improving sidewalks and bike lanes
  2. Protecting our water
  3. Controlling traffic and density
  4. Improving school rankings
  5. Demand that the Planning Board use evidence-based science to determine reasonable, development including affordable housing. Affordable housing should not be determined by a
    School Committee and Coalition leader who has the conflict of interest of working for the one and only Affordable Housing Company that has skin in the game. We need some other companies involved to avoid this conflict of interest, competition in costs and open discussion on the best locations for building Multiple housing units.

1 comment

  1. “we are the arbiters of town speech” No, you are a select person of a town of 6,000 people of which 1,000 of them cast ballots in the election for all candidates combined. The President of the United States doesn’t pick which flag flies over the White House, nor is he/she the arbiter of free speech the US Constitution is. Get over yourself!

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