Tuesday, October 05, 2004

MUNCIE – The city told a federal judge in Indianapolis this week that it was rescinding its policy prohibiting all but American and POW/MIA flags at its campground at Prairie Creek Reservoir.

A lawsuit on behalf of campers was brought by the Indiana Civil Liberties Union claiming the ban on Confederate battle, Budweiser, NASCAR, Pacers, Colts and other flags violated campers’ First Amendment right to free speech.

Mayor Dan Canan said Wednesday he revoked the policy on the advice of city attorney Charles (Chic) Clark. As a result, all flags are permissible at the campground.

"I made the decision not to worry about that

[flag] component, but the overall goal of cleaning up the campgrounds, to make the place look better, is still on," the mayor said.

The campground has come to resemble a trailer park, with amenities such as decks, gardens, flagpoles, golf carts, a portable basketball goal, and an in-ground welcome sign with a family’s name on it.

The mayor still plans to have all RVs and accessories removed from the campground for the winter after the electricity is turned off in about a month. Normally, RVs remain parked at the campground for the winter, adding to the trailer-park atmosphere. The owners have been paying the city a fee to leave their RVs stored at the campground during the winter months.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Tommy Wallace, who calls himself the "mayor" of the campground, Richard Bellomy, and Charles and Laronna Burke, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

But their lawyer, Ken Faulk of the ICLU, said, "If this is the mayor’s permanent position [on flags], I would want him to sign a stipulation saying the policy will not be reinstated. Once we have everyone bound to that, we can dismiss the lawsuit. We want a stipulation of some sort saying this is not going to come up again."

Federal Judge Larry McKinney conducted a hearing on the lawsuit this week in Indianapolis.

"Mayor Canan has advised the court that he has rescinded or otherwise revoked the policy at issue in this cause," McKinney wrote in an order issued Wednesday. "Based on this development, there is no danger of irreparable harm to plaintiffs if they choose to fly the flags other than those previously designated by the policy. Therefore, plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction is denied."

Clark, the city attorney, said in an interview: "I don’t think it’s worth the war. It was a close enough question that I didn’t feel comfortable fighting a war and wasting a lot of money. The mayor is willing to get on with life, clean the area up, and go on."

The mayor at one point was going to ban all flags, but decided to ban all but American and POW-MIA flags. After being sued by ICLU, he banned all flags. But like the ban on Confederate battle and other flags, banning American and POW-MIA flags sparked a protest and national attention. Canan admitted banning American and POW-MIA flags was a mistake and rescinded that order.

Copyright 2004 The Star Press.

Link: http://www.thestarpress.com/articles/1/027044-7791-004.html