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Hamtramck's flag ban may be unconstitutional, federal lawsuit says

Pride flags fly at the George W. Romney Building in Lansing on June 15, 2019.
Executive Office of the Governor
Pride flags fly at the George W. Romney Building in Lansing on June 15, 2019.

Hamtramck's controversial ordinance that bans LGBTQ, religious, ethnic and political flags on city property could be unconstitutional, according to a new lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Detroit.

Russ Gordon and Cathy Stackpoole are the plaintiffs in the suit. Both claim they were removed from the Hamtramck Human Relations Commission after flying a pride flag on city property. Hamtramck City Council banned the flying of all LGBTQ, religious, political and ethnic flags from city property earlier this year.

The lawsuit alleges the ordinance violates the free speech and establishment clauses of the First Amendment as well as the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The ordinance is not neutral because it allows for certain flags to fly but restricts others, Marc Susselman, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, said in an interview. This violates the First Amendment, he added.

"By allowing the Prisoner of War Flag and the flags that celebrate the nations of the residents of Hamtramck, they are making a decision based on the content of that speech," he said.

Susselman said the ordinance also violates the establishment clause — which prohibits the government from making any laws supporting a particular religion — because, he argued, the council considered the impact flags had on the city's religious populations.

"Government is not allowed to enact a statute, or an ordinance, or a resolution, or a policy in order to accommodate the religious views of the people living within that governmental entity," he said.

The suit names the city, Hamtramck City Council, and Mayor Amer Ghalib as defendants. None responded in time for publication.

George Weykamp is a senior at the University of Michigan studying business law and history. He was the 2022 University Editor at The Michigan Daily where he oversaw coverage of the first firing of a University President in over a century as well as a historic sexual misconduct settlement.
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