For better or worse, community associations are in the news once again.   As you may have heard, a homeowner in Wheat Ridge, Colorado has been flying her U.S. flag upside down to protest the country’s role in the war in Iraq. Recently the Association in which the owner lives has demanded that she fly the flag properly or not at all. The Association contends that her flying of the flag “union down” violates Association’s patriotic and political expression policy. The owner has responded that this policy violates her 1st Amendment right of free speech. Below are a few questions that we have received in response to this controversy: 

  1. Can an association adopt rules and regulations pertaining to the display of the American flag?

Answer: Yes. In Colorado a community association may adopt reasonable rules regarding the placement and manner of display of the American flag. However, Colorado law states that an association may not prohibit the display of the American flag as long as it is displayed in a manner consistent with the federal flag code.

  1. Does the federal flag code allow flying of the flag “union down”?

Answer: Yes, in limited circumstances. The “U.S. Flag Code” states that the flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property (for those interested in researching this, see 4 U.S.C. § 8). The homeowner described above states that she is flying the flag upside down because the war in Iraq has put the country in a very distressful situation. It is unclear as to whether this novel argument would succeed in Court.   

  1. Is a restriction on the display of the American flag a violation of the 1st Amendment or state constitutional rights of free speech?

Answer: The answer to this question is currently unclear. It has been generally held that the 1st Amendment does not apply to speech and assembly on private property or within a private organization. In other words, a private community generally has the right, through its covenants, to restrict the speech within its borders. This is basically a contract that an owner agrees to when it purchases property in a covenant controlled community. However, a recent case in New Jersey has questioned this notion, holding that the proliferation of common interest communities have made them “constitutional actors” that must respect their members’ fundamental constitutional rights. This case is currently under review by New Jersey Supreme Court. The Colorado Supreme Court has not yet addressed this issue.