CARLSBAD — No commemorative flags, including pride flags or any flag that identifies with a specific historical event, cause, nation or group of people, will be flown at City Hall.
The Carlsbad City Council declined to approve a new policy allowing commemorative flags during its May 23 meeting, voting 3-2 to forego allowing any flags other than the national and state flags.
Since the item proposed amending a previous policy, passage required four “yes” votes.
Flags have been a reoccurring issue with the council for the past several years. Former Councilwoman Cori Schumacher, the first openly gay woman elected to office in North County, suggested raising the intersectional pride flag at City Hall in 2021.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a ruling related to flags being flown at municipal buildings after a man sued the City of Boston for declining to raise a Christian flag over City Hall. The court ruled 9-0 that the city had violated the man’s First Amendment rights by refusing to raise his flag based on religious expression.
The ruling came with a caveat — a government, as determined by its governing body or council, may collectively decide to raise specific flags “solely for city messages” without violating the First Amendment, according to City Attorney Cindie McMahon.
If the council were to allow a number of different flags to fly at City Hall, a new flag pole would be constructed at a cost between $12,000 to $20,000.
“If the council reserves flagpoles solely for city messages, we don’t have to fly any flag requested,” McMahon said.
Mayor Keith Blackburn and Councilwoman Melanie Burkholder voted against the item, saying it raises too many issues within the council, a lack of controls for outside influence and sparking unnecessary debate with other groups, individuals or religious sects who want their flag raised at City Hall.
Burkholder said inclusivity is important, but the issue of flags is outside the role of government.
Blackburn asked why the council should choose one group over another, adding that regardless of flags, everyone is welcome and safe at City Hall.
“I agree with so much of what was said here today,” Blackburn said. “Everybody is absolutely welcome and safe at City Hall. Bud Lewis was mayor for 30 years, and he told me to be prepared for what you do for one group, you’ll have to do for another.”
All but one public speaker were in support of the option for commemorative flags, saying it would show the city’s inclusiveness. Supporters also noted that when the city previously allowed flags, the floodgates didn’t open to a flock of special requests.
Sara Hunter, a teacher with the Carlsbad Unified School District, said a vote against the commemorative flag is a vote for exclusion.
Max Disposti, executive director of the North County LGBTQ Resource Center, was also in support of commemorative flags.
Disposti said the item was important because of anti-LGBTQ legislation coming up across the country, noting there were 500 anti-LGBTQ bills currently in the pipeline, along with SANDAG reporting a 9% increase in hate crimes, mostly against people of color and LGBTQ individuals.
Councilwoman Teresa Acosta said commemorative flags, especially the pride flag, have been an ongoing issue for years but emphasized her support of including all residents in the community.
“We’ve been talking about this as a community for a long time,” Acosta said. “First, it was the pride flag, and now the intersectional pride flag. I want to support including everyone in the community. Any flags chosen would be by the City Council.”