The following letter was received at the Herald on Thursday, Sept. 16. An update follows this letter.
On the morning of 9/11/21, we took a neighborhood walk to reflect on the events of that day in 2001. We were enjoying the peace of our quiet country road, and as we approached our neighbor’s we found a flag flying from a tree, by the road in front of his house.
Not a patriotic American flag for remembrance, but a hateful and profane message. To be clear, we absolutely support everyone’s right to their opinion, but oppose the use of profanity and hate speech.
And so began an eye opening lesson in the First Amendment, profanity, and our so-called “civil society.”
Our first step was to call on the neighbor to explain how offensive the language was to us and ask him to take it down. The neighbor did not answer the door, although three cars were in the driveway.
Next we called the police as our township offices were closed. The police made a house call, and told us the flag would remain up and the owner was within his First Amendment rights. The officer further advised us not to try to call on him again. The police were patrolling the street after that.
Next we set about writing a neighborhood petition to take the flag down. Our cover letter read in part:
“Dear Neighbor, We are saddened and angry that our neighbor on Groveland Road is flying this flag. Whether you supported Biden or Trump, and whether you agree with President Biden’s actions or not, this is not the way to express an opinion.
“It is unacceptable to treat the president of our country this way, and unacceptable to say f*** you to your neighbors who voted for him. This is a peaceful, civil neighborhood where we all have a right to our opinions and can agree to disagree without going to such vulgar lengths. Please join us in asking the township to require the homeowner to take down this flag.”
We collected over 30 signatures in less than a week. One mother unhappily described her 8-year-old coming home from school and saying, “Mommy, on the school bus home I saw a really bad word on a sign.”
We have called the Plumstead Township Supervisors, the Bucks County district attorney, and our government representatives.
They all say it’s awful, but it is a matter of free speech and there is nothing to be done about it. Of course, this isn’t speech that disappears the minute it is said … it is a sign we and our neighbors must pass by every day. It feels like hate speech to us, and personally threatening.
We are happy to see the flag has been taken down, perhaps due to neighborhood pressure. However, we are still concerned that there are no township guidelines for signage in residential areas.
So we have applied to our township (Plumstead) to be on the official agenda of the 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 12 of the township supervisors’ board meeting. We are hoping neighbors will join us.
Walking or driving past arrays of hateful signs is disturbing, and generates ill will, pitting neighbor against neighbor. There must be a way to deal with this, without infringing on First Amendment rights. There are ordinances regarding business district signage, and residents deserve the same consideration at home.
I have since researched our code and there are many ordinances regarding signage, both commercial and residential, but none addressing this particular area. There is an ordinance that says no permits are required for “temporary signs advertising political parties or candidates for election.”
There are still no ordinances aimed at political hate speech signs outside of election period.