In North Andover, Massachusetts, amidst the ongoing conflict in Israel, a decision stirred controversy as a Palestinian flag was raised. This move gained approval following an hour of heated public comment during a Select Board meeting held on a tumultuous Monday night. The flag is scheduled to fly on the Town Common flagpole until December 7th.
Despite the apparent decision of the board, individuals from both sides arrived to voice their opinions during the meeting. Before the gathering, the town clarified that the application to hoist the flag was submitted mere hours before the update of its policies.
The consideration for flying the Palestinian flag, slated for discussion by the Board the following week, was lodged with the Town just six hours before the vote on the revised policies. Legal consultation prompted the decision to evaluate this application under the old policy due to the timing of events and the non-effective status of the new policy at the time of application receipt, as mandated by law.
Under the previous flag policy, any Town resident could apply to fly a flag on the Town’s flagpole, designating it as a public forum. Recent legal precedent, such as the US Supreme Court decision in Shurtleff v. Boston, mandates that select boards must make content-neutral decisions regarding flag-raising in forums deemed public. The content or message of a flag cannot be a determining factor when assessing an application under the old policy. The Shurtleff case emphasized that a Town cannot prohibit the flying of a flag based on its content or meaning, thereby suggesting that rejection of a resident’s flag application under the prior policy could invite legal action against the Town.
The newly enacted policy now restricts the use of the flagpole solely for governmental speech, aligning itself with the Shurtleff decision. This updated policy no longer allows residents to submit applications for flag-raising. However, due to the timing of events outlined previously, this policy does not affect the ongoing discussion regarding the current flag application. Nonetheless, this marks the final flag application to be considered under the old policy in North Andover.
Despite the approval for the Palestinian flag to be flown, the town expressly stated that it does not reflect the sentiment or position of North Andover or its representatives.