‘Our Flagpole Should Not Be a Speech Mechanism’: Selectmen Pass New ‘Flag Policy’ for Town Buildings


New Canaan’s highest elected official this week instituted a new “flag policy” for town buildings. 

First Selectman Dionna Carlson in introducing a draft policy Tuesday for the full Board of Selectmen to review noted that it wouldn’t apply to school buildings.

Carlson said that during her first week in office she “had an individual come up to me and asked to fly another country’s liberation flag.”

“And I guess my predecessor allowed a week of flying that flag,” Carlson said at a regular Board meeting, held in Town Hall and via videoconference. 

“And I feel very strongly that the only flags that should be flown in municipal buildings are the American flag, the state of Connecticut flag and any town flag,” she continued. “I was thinking about school flags, and I really do believe that those should be reserved for the schools. The other thing that I’m trying to avoid is who gets to fly what flag when?…  If we did the school flags at the municipality, do we fly it for a football win? Then do we fly it for every debate [team] win? I don’t want to have to make those calls. I don’t think it’s really appropriate for this office to be doing that. I really do believe that municipal buildings should really reflect the country and state and local things that you represent. And it’s not a speech mechanism—a flagpole in front of a municipal building, I believe shouldn’t be a speech mechanism.”

Carlson and Selectmen Steve Karl and Amy Murphy Carroll voted 3-0 to approve the new policy (here).

Asked by Karl whether other towns have similar policies, Carlson said, “Yes, Darien actually just instituted a very similar version of this policy, restrictive like ours. I’m not even sure they make an allocation for military flags, but they ran into some issues down in Darien. So they decided that they were going to be very restrictive about which flags were flown on town buildings.”

Carlson appeared to refer to a problem that followed Darien’s adoption of a similarly restrictive flag policy in November 2022. The following summer, residents supportive of the LGBTQ+ community rallied to urge Darien officials to revoke the policy, without success

June is Pride Month.

As drafted by Carlson, the policy made exceptions for flags related to the U.S. military. However, Murphy Carroll said the U.S. flag encapsulates the military, and the selectmen voted to remove those exceptions.

Karl said that New Canaan does “an excellent job recognizing the military.”

“Obviously, we have the plaques downstairs,” he said. “God’s Acre is another spot that has a flagpole where we could say, Hey, that’s where that’s the appropriate spot for recognition of the military. So keeping it tight is what … the idea behind the policy is, so I could support that.”

He said there are “a lot of different ways of recognizing different wins or different events in town.”

“But the idea is that the flagpole that flies above the building is for this purpose only, which I get it,” he said. “Because there’s a lot of competing interests and… areas of misuse.”

Murphy Carroll said, “We don’t need more dividing us. And what we do in town is town.”

Carlson said she wanted a “tight” policy so there’s “no confusion.”

“I don’t want anybody to feel like I don’t support their cause when they ask me to fly a flag,” she said. “It shouldn’t be anything about any of our personal opinions about any issues. As I said, our flagpole should not be a speech mechanism. It is a recognition that we are a member of this country and this state and this community. And that’s what it should be.”

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