Stars and strife

Owner-association clampdowns on U.S. flag-fliers go too far

With all the things to fume about in today’s society, how much outrage should we allot for people whose display of the American flag violates their homeowner-association policy?

How severe a punishment do these rule-breakers deserve?

A stern letter of complaint? A stiff fine? A threat of foreclosure or eviction?

For 73-year-old Larry Murphree, the cost of the small U.S. flag sticking out of the flower pot at his Jacksonville, Fla., home is $8,000. His owner’s association at the Tides Condominium at Sweetwater has fined him $100 a day because the flag’s placement violates the rules.

Because the Vietnam vet refuses to pay, the association has attached a foreclosure lien to his home.

“The flag is worth fighting for,” Murphree told a Fox News affiliate. “If they want to foreclose, bring it on. I’m getting calls from all over the county to stand up. That’s what I’m going to do.”

The offensive flag in question is 17-by-12 inches – not much larger than a sheet of legal paper.

We would have thought nonsense of this sort would have been averted by the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005. It states clearly that residential associations may not “adopt or enforce any policy, or enter into any agreement, that would restrict or prevent a member of the association from displaying the flag of the United States on residential property.”

Unfortunately, those looking for an excuse to hassle can find it. Part of the act exempts “any display or use that is inconsistent with any reasonable restriction pertaining to the time, place, or manner of displaying the flag.”

And that appears to be what the Tides’ association is doing. After an initial dispute with Murphree in 2011, it changed its rules to limit the display of flags to a pole outside the garage. Flower pots, the association says, are for flowers only.

That’s just too much hair-splitting.

The association said in a statement that it “agrees with Mr. Murphree about demonstrating patriotism by flying the American flag” and that it has “established rules that conform with U.S. code and Florida statutes regarding flag etiquette.”

Rules are rules, but we are troubled that Murphree’s flower pot flag is an affront worthy of an $8,000 fine and a mortgage lien. Isn’t that a bit like hunting butterflies with a bazooka?

Houston resident Duy Tran recently had a similar problem in his community. He made national headlines last month when management at the Lodge on El Dorado apartments told him to remove the American flag from his balcony, allegedly because Muslim neighbors felt threatened.

“I’m just standing my ground for the American people,” Tran told a Houston CBS affiliate.

The corporation that owns the apartments disputed Tran’s claim that he was asked to take down the flag because it threatened his neighbors’ religious sensitivities. CEO Jenifer Paneral said managers told him the flag was primarily a safety issue, she said.

“She did refer to other communities, other religious groups in that explanation, but it was just an example of the types of things that were hanging over the balcony,” she said. ”But at no time was there ever a statement that it was a threat to any community.”

Tran stands by his version of the story, but he’s since moved his flag off the railing. It now hangs over his porch, which satisfies the complex.

Since the controversy began, more of his neighbors at the complex are displaying U.S. flags in an apparent show of solidarity, and Tran said he’s been visited by many supporters.

“They came by and shook my hand and told me thank you,” he said.

Flying the American flag isn’t the problem – it’s the people who have a problem with people flying the American flag.

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