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New bill to criminalize flying unauthorized flags on public property, permit 9/11 remembrance flag

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Flying certain flags on public property would become a criminal offense in Alabama under a newly filed bill by State Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa.

Among the first bills filed for the 2024 legislative session, Senate Bill 4 would make it a Class C misdemeanor for an individual to place, hoist, or display a flag on public property outside of 11 exceptions, including the United States flag and the Boy Scouts of America flag.

Perhaps one of the most important exceptions to the new law, according to Allen, was the inclusion of the Freedom Flag, a flag created in November of 2001 in remembrance of 9/11.

“One of the reasons why we think it’s important for us to (include) the remembrance Freedom Flag is (that) it’s a very important part of American history, one that not one of us needs to forget,” Allen told Alabama Daily News. 

“The world doesn’t think and believe like we Americans believe; they’re trying their best to destroy us as a country, as a nation, and I just think this is very important for us to make sure that our young people understand what took place on 9/11.”

Calling 9/11 a “turning point” in America, Allen said his hope was that by making the Freedom Flag more commonly flown on public property, younger Alabamians would be reminded of the sacrifices made since the attack on the World Trade Center.

“We must be reminded so this sort of thing can be placed in the minds of our citizens and our children, that this is not ever going to happen again,” he told ADN.

As to the prospect of criminalizing the act of waiving unapproved flags on public property, Allen said it was not his intention to violate the First Amendment, under which flying flags on public property has been ruled time and time again to be a protected activity.

“As far as a protest or someone staying on public property waiving Trump or a Biden sign, that’s their First Amendment right,” Allen told ADN Tuesday. “We’ve got the First Amendment issue, and we sure don’t want to infringe on constitutional rights.”

Allen said he would consult with his legal team to ensure his proposal ultimately does not conflict with the First Amendment. As currently written, however, the bill would criminalize the flying of any unauthorized flags on public property, though would exclude roads, highways, in stadiums, arenas and athletic facilities, however, would be exempt.

Flags permitted to be flown on public property under the bill are as follows:

  • The national flag of the United States;
  • The official flag of any nation or state that preceded the United States or the State of Alabama in controlling any territory currently constituting the State of Alabama;
  • The official flag of any state, territory, or district of the United States;
  • The official flag of any municipality in this state;
  • The official flag of the Boy Scouts of America;
  • The official flag of the Girl Scouts of the United States of America;
  • The official flag of the American Red Cross;
  • The American Ex-Prisoner of War flag;
  • The National League of Families POW/MIA flag;
  • The Freedom Flag;
  • Any other flag, standard, colors, or ensign approved by the entity in control of the property.

Similar bills have been filed in other states, including one in Florida that would have restricted the exhibition of flags on government property to the state flag, the U.S. flag, the POW-MIA flag or the firefighter memorial flag. However, that bill ultimately died in the Florida Legislature’s Constitutional Rights Subcommittee, and never became law.

Other states have seen more local efforts to restrict what flags can be displayed on public property, including communities in Ohio, New York and Utah, where certain school districts have restricted the display of Pride flags outright.

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