The UVMPA Case for why the Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” Flag must be returned to the New Rochelle Naval Militia Armory

Under City Council Resolution #92 adopted on April 1st, 1959, the United Veterans Memorial & Patriotic Association is the duly-authorized organization, chartered by the City of New Rochelle, which manages all Veterans affairs and duties throughout the City of New Rochelle.

Initially, these responsibilities included Memorial Day and Veterans Day events but has grown into managing the 9-11 Twilight Vigil on Patriot’s Day, providing flags and maintaining flag poles at Memorial Plaza and the New Rochelle Naval Militia Armory, Flag Retirements, Graveyard Services and Death Services as well as having Color Guard and Rifle Detail available.

For many years, the UVMPA has maintained the flag pole at the New Rochelle Naval Militia Armory. The UVMPA has, under its charter from the City of New Rochelle, painted the flagpole, replace the halyard, and provided the flags raised on the flag pole.

The “stars and stripes” flag that currently flies atop the flagpole was provided by the UVMPA and raised by them on March 21, 2013 following a flag retirement ceremony to replace a flag that had become worn after Hurricane Sandy and winter weather. Also raised that day, beneath the American flag, was a yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” Gadsden Flag.

In the over 50 years since the UVMPA was founded, the City of New Rochelle has never sought to intervene in how the UVMPA attends to the details of its responsibilities to manage its patriotic and memorial duties. It has never been involved in which organizations are invited to march in the Memorial Day parade, what sort of floral arrangements are place at Memorial Plaza, which graves are tended, or what sort of candles are lit at our 9/11 Twilight vigil.

In fact, quite the opposite has been the case. In 2006, the City Manager was asked to intervene in a long-simmering dispute within the United Veterans Memorial & Patriotic Association. The dispute centered on a seventh flag pole at Memorial Plaza in downtown New Rochelle, the location of both Memorial Day and Veterans Day services. As part of those services, the UVMPA raises a “stars and stripes” American flag on the largest pole and 6 other flags representing the branches of U.S. armed forces. There is a flag for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. The dispute was whether the remaining flag pole should display the Merchant Marine flag or the New York National Guard flag.

Asked to help resolve the dispute, the City Manager refused to do so and directed the veterans to resolve the dispute within the UVMPA. Ultimately, the UVMPA settled on raising the Merchant Marine flag.

With regard to the Gadsden Flag, On March 28, 2013, City Manager Charles Strome informed the UVMPA that based on unspecified complaints, the Gadsden Flag was to be removed by City workers. Over the next 12 hours there was an exchange of emails and a phone conference detailing the historical significance of the flag. The City Manager stated that he did not believe there was any intention to display support for the Tea Party, informing the UVMPA that he had decided to allow the flag to remain.

For the record, there is no Tea Party in New Rochelle, NY. None of the UVMPA members present at the flag retirement ceremony where the Gadsden Flag was raised are members of the Tea Party and no mention of the Tea Party, direct or indirect, was made at the ceremony.

In an unprecedented interference by the New Rochelle City Council in the administrative duties of the City Manager, the chief executive of the administration, certain Council Members, led by Mayor Noam Bramson, held an illegal “vote”, a telephonic canvas of the five Democrats on City Council later that day. The City Council is a 7-member public body. Based on that “vote”, the City Manager informed the UVMPA that City workers would remove the flag. Later that day the flag was take down, given to the UVMPA momentarily, confiscated from them and taken to City Hall where it remains today.

City Manager Strome has since reversed himself again. Dropping the pretext that the flag was a “Tea Party” flag, the City Manager stated that the reason the flag was removed was because no permission was asked for or granted to fly the Gadsden flag on city property. The flag was removed 6 hours after the City Manager had granted permission for the flag to fly upon learning more about the history of the flag.

Under the authority granted to the United Veterans Memorial & Patriotic Association by the City Council in 1958 they are not required to obtain permission to fly a particular flag at the Armory, at Memorial Plaza, at Hudson Park or certain other areas in connection with their memorial and patriotic responsibilities. No permission was necessary but it was given nonetheless on the morning of March 28th, 2013.

The Gadsden Flag is a historically-appropriate Revolutionary War era flag that was adopted by the Continental Marines and the Continental Navy and is still flown on Naval warships today. This flag has been displayed at numerous past UVMPA-organized events including last year’s Memorial Day parade attended by thousands of New Rochelle residents including all but one City Council member and the City Manager. No current or former elected officials in New Rochelle have ever singled out the Gadsden Flag as “offensive” or “divisive”.

Public allegations made by the Mayor and members of City Council that the flag was raised as “Tea Party” symbol, that the President of the UVMPA is a “Tea Party” supporter or that UVMPA members are aligned with “Tea Party” is entirely and knowingly false. These elected officials know full well that there is no organized “Tea Party” in New Rochelle and that UVMPA membership is, like the U.S. military from which it springs, non-partisan, multi-cultural, and non-denominational. The UVMPA is an organization bound together by a desire to honor military service and love of country.

The only acceptable resolution is for the City of New Rochelle to return the Gadsden Flag to the flag pole in front of the New Rochelle Naval Militia Armory.

The UVMPA has absolute confidence in its legal standing and is content to allow the courts to resolve the issue in due course, however, we remain hopeful that the New Rochelle City Council, through this process, will become better educated about our nation’s history and see the wisdom of simply restoring the flag provided by the UVMPA to its proper place beneath the American flag.

The Thomas More Law Center is supporting the United Veterans Memorial & Patriotic Association in litigation and other means to address this issue.

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