Oh say can you see the flag from the freeway? Not in Orcutt, but a law could change that

An American flag flaps in the wind as storm clouds build over the main post office earlier this month in Denver.
An American flag flaps in the wind as storm clouds build over the main post office earlier this month in Denver. AP

It shouldn’t be against the law to fly Old Glory. But in some places, it is. And no, we’re not talking about those persnickety gated communities where HOAs over-regulate everything from the color of a fence to the placement of a clothesline.

This time it’s a state agency—Caltrans—that denied a request to fly the flag, but a determined group of Central Coast veterans, Old Town Orcutt American Legion Post 534, isn’t taking no for an answer.

Neither is Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham. He is sponsoring a bill, AB 866, that would allow American and California flags to be flown at “gateway monuments,” as long as they are managed by a government entity such as a city or county. (Gateway monuments are the “welcome” signs located at entrances to communities.)

Since 2011, a Vietnam veterans group has been trying to put up a gateway monument near the Highway 101/Clark Avenue exit in Orcutt, just south of Santa Maria.

But here’s where it ran into trouble: Plans for the monument included a 60-foot flagpole that would fly the U.S. and state flags. Plans also included five pillars—one for each of the armed forces.

Caltrans denied the request for a permit, according to Steve LeBard, who’s spearheading the project. The reason? Because it included flags.

The monument probably could have gone forward without them, LeBard said, but he couldn’t fathom that.

“Who’s going to put up a veterans’ memorial without an American flag?” he asked us.

Barbara Dabney runs Freedom Flag & Banner Co. in South Florida. Her staff works to make American flags for various national holidays including the Fourth of July.

From what we’ve pieced together, the Caltrans denial was based on a judicial ruling handed down in the aftermath of 9/11, when a California court ruled that impromptu displays of American flags hung from freeway overpasses amounted to political expression.

If Caltrans was going to allow those “expressions,” it would also have to allow other political banners and signs, the court ruled.

Caltrans decided to ban everything. That’s understandable; it doesn’t want to be in the position where it has to give carte blanche to anyone who wants to use overpasses as bully pulpits.

But there’s a big difference between unpermitted signs, banners and flags hung haphazardly from freeway overpasses and American flags that are part of an officially sanctioned monument.

This is a no-brainer. Of course it should be OK to respectfully fly a flag from a monument on a public right-of-way.

After all, flags can be flown from government offices, schools, courthouses, parks—all manner of public buildings—without requiring “equal space” for other political expressions.

It’s unfortunate that it requires an act of the Legislature to see common sense prevail in this case. But if that’s what it takes, so be it.

We commend Jordan Cunningham for carrying the legislation, which will apply not just to Orcutt, but also to other communities interested in flying flags at their gateway signs.

We also salute Steve LeBard, who, by the way, ran for the Assembly seat that Cunningham won. During the campaign, LeBard briefed his opponent on the situation, and Cunningham agreed to help.

“He’s kept his word,” said LeBard.

The Tribune strongly urges the Legislature to pass the bill allowing flags at gateway monuments. American Legion Post 534 has waited long enough.

Many Americans are unaware that there are laws in regards to the American flag that can be found in detail in the United States Code. The flag code is a guide to encourage proper respect for the national ensign, although is has no provision for en

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune