Poles apart

All Joyce and Bill Keefe wanted to do was to show their support for veterans over the Independence Day holiday.

So the couple, who live in the Twin Oaks development in Central Point, removed the pole that held their birdhouse in place next to their driveway and put in its place a taller pole on which they erected an American flag.

When the development's homeowners association — the CCR Nazis, some residents call its representatives — told them they had violated development rules, they didn't just accede. They decided to write to lawmakers in the hope that someone would give them the right to fly the flag.

It's a fine idea, one based in a right we all ought to have. But there's this: It's already law.

There's balance to be had between the right to display the flag and the right of homeowners' associations, Congress decided in 2006. It enacted a law, the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act, that said homeowners associations couldn't keep residents from putting up flags. Unfortunately for people who feel like the Keefes do, it also said the associations could restrict the how flags are displayed.

Which brings us back to Central Point, where the Twin Oaks association restricts tall poles like the 15-footer the Keefes erected but allows flags to be flown from short poles extending from porches.

That rule, in our view, doesn't unreasonably impose on residents' right to fly Old Glory, it just sets limits around how the flag can be flown.

Homeowners associations typically restrict all sorts of things, from the color a home may be painted to the kind of pets residents can walk to whether the family RV can sit in the driveway.

Some might — and do — call it obnoxious, but it's perfectly legal. Buyers sign on to the restrictions when they purchase homes in the development, a private entity. And for some, the controlled look is exactly why they're there: They don't want to live in a neighborhood they consider junky.

The Freedom to Display the American Flag Act sought to make sure Americans weren't prohibited from personal flag displays. Homeowners association members were being told they couldn't fly their own flag, said U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Maryland Republican, in a speech urging passage of the act.

"It is a very simple bill," he told the House. "It simply says that a homeowner or condominium owner cannot be prohibited from flying the flag of his country. It also says that the association may place reasonable limits on the time and the manner of displaying the flag."

Putting such a balance into law would bring a common-sense approach to the issue, he said. That same approach is at work at Twin Oaks.

If there's a "but" moment in this for the association, it's that some residents clearly consider it overzealous in its approach.

That should be food for thought when it comes to enforcement. But it shouldn't mean that the association has to depart from its pole rules, which follow the path carved out by people dedicated to protecting flag freedom.

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