Thursday, May 14, 2015

Record editorial on Bridge of Lions flags disappoints -- does not point way forward to restore flags, diversity and does not respect our Federal Court's June 7, 2005 First Amendment ruling in Jensen v. City of St. Augustine, Florida

Editorial: Bridge flags and the several-year itch
Posted: May 13, 2015 - 4:32pm

Bill Duddy’s letter to the editor at the bottom of the page asks a serious question, but not a new one.

Every so often the question arises of returning to a day of flying the American Flag (or the Florida State flag, or a 450th Celebration flag for that matter) atop the columns gracing the Bridge of Lions downtown.

Call it the “several-year itch.”

One of the last times the subject came up was when we were transitioning (forever) between the old bridge and the new bridge, with the temporary bridge in between.

The short answer is this:

According to city attorney Isabelle Lopez, “We lost a case in federal court,” and nothing in the law — or the status of the bridge — has changed since then.

The short story is this:

In the decade between 2000 and 2010 the city allowed an ever-increasing number of celebratory flags to wave over the historic bridge. These ranged from city and U.S. flags, to Flagler College flags, flown around graduation time.

There were many others, including flags of a private mega-yacht company whose clients gathered at the city yacht pier each year for a get-together.

Flying private flags on a public bridge had a pretty wide-open application process back then, and they (up to 49 individual flags) were always a pretty sight to see — different colors, different patterns — all flapping lazily against the blue horizon and cotton ball clouds of the Oldest City.

That is until a very colorful flag tried to join them — that of a rainbow. The city turned the gay pride flags down.

Three years later, U.S. District Judge Henry Lee Adams granted the group a temporary injunction in June 2005 and later a full ruling. (No, it was not a formal vote of the City Commission until May 23, 2005: the federal court ruled 14 days later -- GLBT people sued and won in a fortnight, folks. How do you like them apples?).

The city fathers at the time denied the action had anything to do with the intra-gender bent of the group or its politics, insisting instead that it was turned down because it did not have “historical significance to the city.” (The only group ever turned down was the Gay group, some of whose members "came out" of the closet publicly in 2003 and 2004, were threatened and fired, without even a vote of the City Commission. Those City fathers -- all gone lied and the Record lied -- we GLBT people have history just like everyone else! The Court considered and approved our application attachment and complaint conclusions on 11,000 years of local GLBT history. The rebarbative right-wing Record was on the wrong side of history and ignored our historic research, including the 1566 murder of a Gay man on Menendez' orders because he was a "Sodomite and a Lutheran," the Freddy Francis donation of Francis Field -- now the Special Events Field -- and the Kenneth Dow donation of the Dow Museum of Historic Homes, now sought to be converted into fancy "suites" by developer DAVID BARTON CORNEAL).

The judge was quick to point out that Flagler College, founded in 1960 (sic-- it was 1968), was a little weak in historical significance as well (let alone the boat manufacturer).

The court ruling basically said that the city could fly no flag on the bridge unless it allowed all flags on the bridge to fly — because the bridge had become a public speech venue. (The court specifically ordered rainbow flags be flown on seven flagpoles then on the bay front -- since removed for unstated reasons -- and 42 flagpoles then on the Bridge of Lions, since replaced).

Other cities have ended up in the same place and have attempted to go back to strict governmental use. But the courts have consistently denied these efforts, in essence ruling that once the horse is out of the barn, it stays free. (Another day, another meaningless rural cliche. (What "horse's behind" wrote this galactically stupid dumb 'ole editorial, which treats First Amendment rights like somebody's loose horse escaped from a barn? As my mother would say, "HOW TRITE!")

Any chance of anything changing? Lopez says no.

First and foremost, the bridge is now the property of the state, not the city. The FDOT could attempt to take on the federal court, but has absolutely nothing to gain from the exercise — and plenty to lose. (What? We're talking flags here, people. Fear and smear).

And that’s where we (sic) are today, and why Mr. Duddy will continue to be saddened by the bridge’s symbolic “nakedness” this Memorial Day weekend and beyond.

There are many of us with him philosophically. But we live and learn. And this lesson is one the city and its residents will have to live with for a very long time. (The lesson is We, The People, have a new Mayor and we should ask her and City Commission to restore the flags -- business people have offered to pay for the flags and the poles, and in our diversity there is strength. Let's get our flags back. Now.)

Ed's Note: RECORD PUBLISHER DELINDA FOGEL, RECORD DIRECTOR OF AUDIENCE/EDITOR KATHY NELSON and RECORD OPINION EDITOR JAMES SUTTON were left detailed messages about the error of their ways early this morning. No call backs as of 6:50 PM. Were the distortions deliberate?

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