Fieldstone flagpole comes down but may not stay down
Article Courtesy of "The Tennessean"
Posted Friday, 09/13/02

FRANKLIN He said he wouldn't do it until after the anniversary of Sept. 11.

And yesterday Michael Beckett of Fieldstone Farms finally took down the American flag from his front yard after months of fighting with his homeowners association to keep it up.

But though the pole is now gone, the flag flap still is not over.

State Rep. Charles Sargent yesterday said he would sponsor legislation in the 2003 Tennessee General Assembly to prevent homeowners associations and other groups from ordering the removal of a permanent American flagpole on private property.

''This is a sad day for me and for Americans everywhere,'' Beckett said as he took down the pole in front of television cameras yesterday. ''I was hoping that reason would prevail and someone would see that the proper display of the American flag is different than a bird bath or a yard gnome.''

But like yard gnomes, the Fieldstone Farms Homeowners Association covenants forbid residents from installing flagpoles in their front yards. The design standards say that flags should be flown from staffs mounted on the homes.

Beckett said it was one rule in a thick document that he signed but didn't study. He installed his flagpole a few weeks after the Sept. 11 tragedy.

''I felt like it was the right thing to do,'' he said.

But after being cited by the association late last year, he soon realized that disobeying neighborhood rules can get expensive. The fines start at $50 for the first month and double each month afterward.

The board this past spring gave Beckett the opportunity to circulate a petition to get the rule changed. September was the first month a fine was to have been imposed.

''Twelve months of fines would add up to $204,750, and that does not include attorney's fees,'' Beckett said. ''Therefore, today I have no choice but to remove this flagpole.''

Beckett recited the Pledge of Allegiance and read from a two-page statement that said he would send his flag to a friend, Sgt. Tony Pinto, who was serving in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army's 20th Special Forces.

''This is the only homeowners association I know that's fighting an individual's right to fly the flag,'' he said.

Sargent agreed.

''Something needs to be changed when flying the flag can be against the rules,'' he said in a press release. ''We certainly want to be reasonable and support the general right of communities to set their own policies, but at the same time to ban the display of our nation's most sacred emblem is ridiculous.''


The full text of press conference : September 13, 2002
By Michael Beckett

Thank you all for coming today. This is a sad day for me and for patriotic Americans everywhere.

The board of directors of Fieldstone Farms, and the board president Mr. Jack Beaudoin, ordered me to remove this flagpole by Aug. 31st or face their fines. I refused under any circumstances to remove this flagpole before September 11th; therefore the board is now fining me. Mr. Beaudoin threatened further fines, lawsuits, court costs and attorney fees if I do not remove this flagpole. I have been able to keep this flag flying since the board first ordered it removed on November 13th of last year. If I continue, I risk my family's financial health and ultimately risk losing my home. Twelve months of fines would add up to $204,750.00. Therefore, today I have no choice but remove this flagpole. 

This flag will be sent to a very dear friend of mine who is serving our country in the military. Sergeant Tony Pinto with the Army's 20th Special Forces was recently called up. Before he shipped out, Tony told me that if this flag ever had to come down, he would be proud to fly it over his unit wherever they may be sent. America is at war and at this very moment there are thousands of men and women in uniform in harm's way just like Tony wearing the flag proudly sewn on their shoulders.

The board of Fieldstone Farms chooses not to differentiate between the flag of the United States and a happy birthday flag, an Easter bunny flag or any other flag. 
This board controls display of the American flag just as it controls plastic pink flamingos, yard gnomes and birdbaths.  I submit that there is a great difference between yard gnomes and Old Glory.  The board's own rules allow the flexibility to treat these things differently, but they choose not to.

The covenants of Fieldstone Farms and the covenants of this neighborhood, Calumet, are silent on flags and flagpoles. Flags or flagpoles are not mentioned in the deed restrictions. The rule that controls flag display is only a rule of the board and could be changed by the board at any time. Jack Beaudoin and the board simply choose to not adjust their rule. They have decided to continue to dictate to the property owners of this development how, when and where we may display our American flags. 

Thousands of Americans have given their lives to protect our freedom. A handful of improperly elected neighborhood officials controlling how, when and where we may display our flag is not freedom.  According to the rules of this board, a small flag on a mailbox post, just as you see here, is not allowed in Fieldstone Farms. The flag you see on the side of this mailbox is also against the rules of this development. I have asked, formally applied, attended meetings and appealed to allow this flagpole to
stand and have been denied each and every time. I question the motivation of a board that has the power to permit this flag to remain just as it is, yet after repeated requests and appeals, refuses to do so particularly at a time when this country is at war. I have to wonder if any one of the Fieldstone Farms board members could stand face to face with a family member of someone killed on 9-11 or any American soldier and explain to them why this flagpole had to be removed. No one should be denied the right to properly display the flag of the United States because of where they live.
There are thousands upon thousands of proud, patriotic Americans across this state and this country living in association controlled developments that are being denied their right to properly display the flag on their own property.  This needs to change, and in Tennessee, it soon will. 

The state legislatures of California, Florida, Arizona and South Carolina have all passed bills addressing this issue and it is now illegal to varying degrees in those states for community associations to forbid or restrict the display of the American flag.  Several other states have bills at some stage of the legislative process. 
With me today is State Representative Charles Sargent to tell you more.
(Charles Sargent went on to explain that the Tennessee bill will be largely based on the California legislation)

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