A proposal in New Jersey that could ban the American flag has sparked a series of protests, including a plan by a business owner to distribute free flags.
West New York, N.J., Mayor Felix Roque (D) has tucked the proposed flag ban into legislation that would ban most signs in store windows, along with televisions mounted to cars. Opponents claim that Roque is trying to squash political opposition, but Roque said it is a safety issue to prevent distracted driving and that the flag is not included. The proposed flag ban passed a preliminary 4-1 vote by the West New York Board of Commissioners last week with a final vote scheduled for February.
Bill Kirchgessner, the owner of United Decorating in Hoboken, N.J., said he planned to distribute free 2-by-3 American flags to residents of neighboring West New York in an attempt to protest the proposed ban.
"I think it's ludicrous," Kirchgessner told The Huffington Post. "It is disrespectful to the country. It's crazy."
Kirchgessner said he will start Saturday, giving the flags to West New York residents who show proof of residency. He said after reading about Roque's proposal in HuffPost, he wanted to help and ordered 200 of the flags, at a cost of almost $2,000. Kirchgessner is prepared to order more if there is demand from West New York residents, he said.
The flag giveaway is a first for Kirchgessner, whose family opened the store in Hoboken in 1899. "We have never had anyone say you can't fly the American flag," he said. "This is a first."
Kirchgessner's is not the only planned protest. Residents for a Better West New York is planning a rally Wednesday evening at the town hall to protest the ordinance. In addition to American flags, the proposal would ban "flashing, moving, digital and animated signs," smoking signs, displays that take up more than 15 percent of a window, neon signs and "signs which are not an accessory to a use located on the premises." Fines of up to $1,000 a sign could be charged.
But Frank Ferriero, the founder of Residents for a Better West New York and town Parks and Public Property Commissioner Count Wiley, who voted against the ordinance, both claim this is a move by Roque to stop political dissent. Ferriero is campaigning to change West New York's form of government, while Wiley is leading a recall of Roque. Roque and his son were indicted by federal prosecutors earlier this year on computer hacking charges.
”Many of our residents fled oppressive countries that prohibited freedom of speech and other basic liberties," Ferriero said in a statement. "It’s appalling that a mayor in a town in the United States of America would attempt, better yet, even introduce such an ordinance that violates the First Amendment and the principles that this great nation was built on. This is just further proof that Mayor Roque is truly incompetent to continue running this town as mayor.“
Roque's spokesman, Pablo Fonseca, told HuffPost last week that the ordinance is for safety purposes and would not ban the flag. He said that the proposal covers only commercial flags and not the American flag.
The ordinance lists 19 items "prohibited anywhere" in the town, including flags, but does not specify commercial items. The ordinance text can be viewed here.
"It is protect the residents of West New York," Fonseca said last week.