ANN ARBOR, MI – The Thomas More Law Cente filed a federal lawsuit last week against the City of New Rochelle, NY, its Mayor and five members of the City Council for confiscating the “Don’t Tread on Me” Flag (known as the Gadsden Flag) from a flagpole at the local Armory. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the United Veterans Memorial & Patriotic Association of New Rochelle (UVMPA-NR) and its president, Peter Parente, a Marine Corps veteran.
The Gadsden Flag is a historical American flag with a yellow field depicting a snake coiled, ready to strike. Positioned below the snake are the words “Don’t Tread on Me.” In 1775, the flag was designed by and is named for Revolutionary general and statesman Christopher Gadsden. The Gadsden Flag is considered the first flag of the Continental Navy.
On March 21, 2013, at an official ceremony, the Veterans unfurled a new American flag to replace a tattered one, damaged in Hurricane Sandy. Beneath the American flag the Veterans raised the Gadsden Flag. The New Rochelle Armory was an active New York State Naval Militia Armory and training facility for the Navy and Marines between the 1930’s and 1990’s. Over fifty years ago, the City of New Rochelle chartered the Veterans group to conduct patriotic services, which included ceremonies to honor its Veterans, the care of city memorials and monuments, and the upkeep and maintenance of the Armory flag and memorials.
Within a week of the March 21, 2013 ceremony, City Manager Chuck Strome ordered Peter Parente to remove the Gadsden Flag because it was a Tea Party symbol. Strome changed his mind after Parente provided him with information describing the historical significance of the flag. However, less than 3 hours later, Parente was informed that the New Rochelle City Council ordered removal of the flag. It was later discovered that the Council’s meeting violated New York’s open meeting laws and neither the public nor the two Republican council members were notified. The Gadsden Flag was retired by the Veterans and confiscated by the Public Works Department. The flaghas not been returned.
The City of New Rochelle granted UVMPA-NR and predecessor organizations the right display and maintain flags on the flag pole located at the Armory, and to conduct ceremonies and events since the period following World War II through the present.
The purpose of the lawsuit is obtain a court ruling that declares the New Rochelle City Council’s actions violated UVMPA-NR’s constitutional and statutory rights. Additionally, it seeks to return the flag to the Veterans and allow them to fly the Gadsden Flag over the Armory.
Named as Defendants in the lawsuit are Noam Bramson, Mayor of the City of New Rochelle; and City Council Members of the City of New Rochelle; Barry R. Fertel, Ivar Hyden, Shari B. Rackman, Jared R. Rice, and Charles B. Strome. The two Republican council members who voted against removal of the flag at a subsequent, regular council meeting, were not included in the lawsuit.