Anger emerged during Monday’s San Fernando City Council meeting, when a request from a group of local residents to have a Christian flag be flown over City Hall during religious holidays was turned down.
The residents who described themselves as “Christians” maintained that the Gay Pride flag has been flown over City Hall over recent years in June during Gay Pride Month as a show of support for the LGBTQ+ community but a Christian flag has never been raised during religious holidays.
The local group has sent letters and attended recent council meetings accusing councilmembers of not representing its “conservative residents.” During public comments, one resident addressing the council said they would wage a recall election if they didn’t comply with their demands.
The controversy encouraged the local council to establish a flag policy and on Monday, with a vote of 3-1-1 the councilmembers, citing a separation of church and governance, omitted religious flags from flying over City Hall.
Supporting the new policy, Mayor Celeste Rodriguez, Councilmembers Mary Solorio and Joel Fajardo voted “yes,” while Councilmember Cindy Montañez voted against it and Vice Mayor Mary Mendoza abstained. Fajardo is the first openly gay San Fernando councilmember to be elected and takes credit for influencing the City during his first term to have more public events that support the gay community.
While Montañez and Mendoza have appeared at the City’s event to raise the gay flag, on Monday, both councilmembers took a position that no flag besides the United States flag and the California state flag be flown, which earned some applause from the residents in attendance.
“Celeste [Rodriguez], Mary Solorio and Joel Fajardo were all in favor that the US flag, the state flag, the City flag and the Pride flag are the only ones that should be flown, which is not fair — that’s discrimination towards other groups,” said Yolanda Haro, a local resident among the Christian group. “You either have a policy for all flags or none or just the US flag.”
While there hasn’t been a decision yet from the group of Christian residents on where to go from here, Haro did say that a recall election is an option they are considering.
“Those three [Rodriguez, Solorio and Fajardo] are the ones that are putting the City in jeopardy,” Haro said. “You can’t just pick and choose who you think is important.”
Irene S., who did not provide her last name and described herself as a Jewish resident in a message sent to Rodriguez and Solorio, wrote that their vote created more divisiveness among the community. She said that the city must treat everyone equally by flying no flags other than the state and US flag.
“We all have a voice, we all have feelings, we all have rights, we should all be treated equally and that goes with whatever group you want to belong to. That’s for us to decide,” Irene wrote. “Our government needs to support it, but make sure that we are supported to express it, not for them to do it for us and pick and choose who they’re going to assist.
“Our government needs to support it, but make sure that we are supported to express it, not for them to do it for us and pick and choose who they’re going to assist.”
The action this week by the San Fernando City Council is not a new issue for religious groups.
In 2022, the US Supreme Court found that the city of Boston had violated a Christian group’s free speech rights when it denied their request to raise a Christian flag over their city hall. The city had no policy for displaying flags on city flagpoles, instead using a “come one, come all” approach that turned the flagpole into a public forum that needed to be open to all forms of speech.
Under a new ordinance, all flag raisings in the city of Boston must be initiated by a proclamation by the mayor or a resolution by its City Council, and the city’s flagpole is not meant to serve as a public forum.
It was this case that influenced the recent policy adopted by the City of San Fernando.
City’s New Policy
The city’s new policy clarifies that the City’s flagpoles aren’t intended to serve as a public forum, and instead belong to the City Council to express their views, but has established procedures for the display of “commemorative flags” — flags that identify with a specific historical event, cause or nation — and would not allow for the display of flags of any particular religious movement, political party affiliation or that advocates for a specific election outcome.
Under this new policy, two councilmembers would have to enter a motion to raise the commemorative flag and receive a majority vote from the council. A resolution to fly the Pride flag had previously been passed, however, so it will not need another vote.
City Manager Nick Kimball said staff looked into adopting a policy after the group of local residents took issue with the raising of the Gay Pride flag without raising a Christian flag. Kimball noted how the lack of a policy had affected the city of Boston.
“If there’s competing interests, or there’s multiple folks that are requesting a flag be flown, we really need to have a way that we’re both abiding by the United States Constitution but also have a fair policy that we can go to the City Council and they can make a decision without getting us sideways with freedom of speech or laws or anything like that,” Kimball said.
Resident Victoria Garcia said she was “disappointed.”
“I have spoken to some of the residents who have made requests and there was a genuine enthusiasm and excitement, but it seems the City’s response is to propose a policy that would ban religious flags, [as if] to just shut down this community engagement,” Garcia said.
A Christian flag. Would the Vatican flag be a good start? What are other examples of Christian flags? An atheist flag if there are any. Better to avoid the sectarian swamp.
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