Gadsden Flag Shouldn't be Banned by Laveen HOA, Says ACLU

A Laveen homeowner's association is wrong to prohibit the historic Gadsden flag from flying in front of a home, an ACLU representative says.

"We believe that (HOAs) don't have the power to hijack people's free speech rights," says Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Arizona chapter.

The ACLU is looking into the case of Andy McDonel, who was told by his HOA, the Avalon Village Community Association, to remove the flag or face a fine.

You may not know the name, but you've seen the flag: It's the yellow one with the words "Don't Tread On Me" beneath a rattlesnake with 13 rattles -- one for each colonial state. The symbol was used by the early Marine Corps and Navy, and is considered one of the earliest U.S. flags.

As of about a year ago, the Gadsden flag has also been considered a national symbol of the Tea Party movement. But McDonel says he's not a Tea Party member -- "it's not my cup of tea," he says wryly -- nor is he flying the flag to protest anything.

The reaction of his HOA, though, has turned McDonel into something of a rebel. And he's certainly getting his 15 minutes of fame: He was on the national Fox News network, and has given interviews to a couple of local TV stations.

McDonel says he started flying the flag in front of his Laveen home in January because it looks cool and symbolizes his patriotism. A couple of weeks after he quit the HOA board of directors, he received a letter ordering him to remove the flag or face a fine. He's not sure what prompted the HOA to go after his flag.

Even after an appeal, the HOA won't budge. McDonel sent us a copy of the denial of his appeal written by the HOA's community manager, Dawn Engle. No reason for the denial is given. Asked to comment on the issue, Engle referred New Times to another property manager, who didn't return a voice mail message.

"Let the fines come," McDonel says, adding that the HOA can't take away his house and he can pay the fines years from now, when he sells his place.

What's especially troubling about this case is the HOA's refusal to budge even though a state law seems to block HOAs from banning military flags. As the ACLU's Meetze notes, though, the law isn't perfectly clear. It states, in part, that HOAs can't prohibit:

The American flag or an official or replica of a flag of the United States army, navy, air force, marine corps or coast guard...

Clearly, the Gadsden flag was once used by branches of the military. The law doesn't say anything about historical military flags, but the Gadsden seems to fit the spirit of the law.

With the ACLU and Fox News agreeing on this one, the HOA has no political allies. But it does have a rulebook and the authority to fine people. And that's all little autocrats need to feel good about themselves.