In the news recently, there have been reports across the country that certain Homeowners Associations (HOAs) have attempted to ban the outdoor display of certain tea party flags. Sometimes these flags are mounted on an exterior wall and sometimes onboard a car parked in a driveway. Some stories have even reported that bumper stickers that are similar in look to these flags have been banned. In most cases the HOA sent a letter to the homeowner demanding the flag be taken down within a certain time period or face a fine.
These flags are commonly known as "Don't Tread On Me Flags" and besides that ominous warning call, also include an image of a coiled rattlesnake preparing to strike its prey. The most popular tea party flag is the Gadsden Flag, which has a bold yellow background. Another is the First Navy Jack Flag, which has red and white stripes with an uncoiled rattler. Finally, there is the Culpeper Flag, which has a white background and adds the words of Virginia Patriot Patrick Henry: "Liberty or Death." All of these flags have historical significance and can be traced back to the Revolutionary War. These are not violent, offensive flags any more so than George Washington and Benjamin Franklin are "violent and offensive."
HOAs have used the argument that any flag other than the official US flag is not permitted and that the homeowner should be aware of this if he/she has read their HOA contract fully. On the surface, it appears that both sides of the argument have legitimate points. If a homeowner does sign an HOA agreement upon moving into a neighborhood, then they are contractually bound to abide by all the rules and regulations therein; including not displaying flags that are not US flags. At the same time, the homeowner has certain individual rights of freedom of expression that must be protected. Some will argue that an HOA is a private enterprise and freedom of expression only covers public places. To an extent, that is correct. However, the homeowner has two very important factors working in his/her favor.
First, is the arena of public opinion. As soon as many of these reports came out, they quickly became national news stories. Many Americans found themselves siding with the homeowners, and this brought a lot of unwanted attention to the HOA. Most HOAs wanted to quell these stories as quickly as possible and therefore, to avoid any more bad press, decided to relinquish their protest of these "Don't Tread On Me Flags" and allow the homeowner to continue to display them. One small victory for sanity.
Secondly, the homeowner may have the law on their side. Many states forbid any organization (HOAs included) from banning flags that have historical US significance or ones that can traced to military usage. For example, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Army Flags are allowed to be flown anywhere because they are official government specified flags. The Gadsden Flag was the first official flag of the US Marine Corps and therefore, is protected from any attempts to ban the display of. The First Navy Jack Flag was the US Navy's first official maritime flag, and is still flown aboard US naval vessels around, at the request of the Secretary of Navy no less. The Culpeper Flag was used by the Virginia Militia during the Revolutionary war, and these militias eventually came under the direct command of General Washington.
With state law on their side, and public opinion strongly in their favor, homeowners should not be afraid or reluctant to fly these quintessentially-American historical flags.