Caltrans, court block town’s efforts to display the US flag 

In the small California town of Orcutt, a private association has raised donations to erect a flagpole and monument between a highway exit and a park-and-ride lot, at the entrance to the community’s Old Town section. The pole would fly the American flag, encircled by five pillars, one each for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. But Caltrans, the California Department of Transportation, has stymied the effort, calling it an impermissible act of “public expression.”

The Orcutt Pioneer newspaper reported that, although the Old Town Orcutt Revitalization Association “intends its flag as a tribute and symbol of freedom” — which would seem to be how most Americans would view their nation’s flag — “Caltrans sees it as a form of speech or expression, something more personal than patriotic.”

The Revitalization Association has been fundraising for more than a year to collect the necessary $60,000 to build the flagpole and monument, above which would wave a 12-by-18 Stars and Stripes. But Caltrans has declared that its policy forbids such efforts. In a letter, Caltrans explained that it developed its policy in response to a ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in response to impromptu flag-hanging in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The panel’s ruling demanded “viewpoint neutrality.” That is, if Caltrans was going to allow the hanging of the American flag on public land, then it also must allow the hanging of all flags and “expressive banners.”

Last summer, a few days before the Fourth of July, Caltrans painted over a 35-foot American flag mural on a hillside in the East Bay, several hours north of Orcutt, which had been completed in the wake of the terrorist attacks. But even before the Fourth, a couple of industrious citizens painted it red, white and blue again. After being heavily criticized, Caltrans apologized.

The Revitalization Association is fighting the Caltrans ban and has so far managed to get a bill through the California Senate’s Veterans Affairs Committee by a unanimous vote, and through the Senate’s Transportation and Housing committees by an 8-1 vote. It is being aided in its efforts by the Marine Corps League’s Coastal Valley Detachment 1340, which would maintain the Old Town Orcutt Gateway Monument if the bureaucracy, responding to the judiciary, ever allows it to be built.

This article appeared in The Weekly Standard.

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