There isn’t enough support among the Vernon Township Council to fly the Pride flag at the Municipal Center during June, and Council President Patrick Rizzuto didn’t support a solution proposed to Mayor Howard Burrell that involved a second flagpole.
For the second straight meeting, the public comments section of the May 23 Vernon Township Council meeting was dominated by members of the area’s LGBTQ+ community asking the council to fly the flag during June, which has been designated Pride month. According to Sussex County Pride, roughly 365 people had signed a petition in favor of flying the flag.
Rizzuto said only two flags should fly on township flagpole: the U.S. flag and the POW/MIA flag.
“I grew up in a town – Midland Park – during the Vietnam era, and the president intervened and spared any male member – and female member if they were there at the time – from going into combat because five graduates of Midland Park High School were killed in action in Vietnam, one of whom was a very close friend of mine,” Rizzuto said.
Councilman Harry Shortway said he presented a compromise to Burrell that involved putting up a second flagpole that would fly the New Jersey state flag and allow the Pride flag for the month beneath it.
“It would still be conscious of the Supreme Court decision on May 2 regarding flying flags on government poles, which the city of Boston lost,” Shortway said. “The government has the right to express its opinion. There is no First Amendment issue.”
In the court case Shortway cited, the City of Boston allowed groups to temporarily fly a flag on a specific flagpole on city property during events such as Pride month or cultural celebrations. But when a Christian group asked to raise what they called a Christian flag, the city refused, citing concerns that it may appear as though the city was endorsing the religion, potentially violating the constitution. The Supreme Court ruled that since the other flags flown by Boston did not represent the government’s opinion, the Christian group could fly its flag for its event like any other organization. However, Boston lost because it allowed other flags to fly roughly 20 times a year on a designated flagpole, per court documents. Since Vernon does not have a flag policy, it is unlikely to fall under the same mandate, unless it adopts a similar flag flying policy.
Both Shortway and Councilman Mike Furrey expressed support, and praised Glen Meadow Middle School eighth grader Bridget Esposito, who questioned the council’s value if the members won’t even put it up for a vote.
Rizzuto said the issue of the flag was not put on the agenda because he said he doesn’t believe tradition requires a vote. He also didn’t support spending $3,200 to erect a second flagpole. He suggested the alternative of flying a banner between two poles as being an acceptable form of recognition.
Councilman Brian Lynch was against the idea of flying any flag other than the U.S. flag, but said he was in favor of recognizing Pride Month in June.
“I am so very sorry, and it’s not that I’m old-fashioned, but it’s that we have a flag that represents every single person in this room, and it represents the good people and the bad people,” he said. “We’re all united under one flag.”