A lawsuit has been filed against the New Albany Park Condominium Association board of directors in New Albany, Ohio, for attacking a couple who flew a Thin Blue Line flag in support of police officers.
The case was brought by the Bopp Law Firm of Terre Haute, Indiana, on behalf of Joseph and Christine Swantack, after the National Police Association offered the couple assistance in their battle.
According to James Bopp Jr., counsel for plaintiffs, “HOA covenants that prohibit the display of the Thin Blue Line flag are in violation of the First Amendment and the threats by the HOA to enforce their prohibition in court are without merit.”
It was Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith, a spokeswoman for the NPA, who said, “Although this matter is purely a question of law, more broadly the Thin Blue Line in all its forms has come under attack from anti-police activists who seek to eliminate any symbol of support for law enforcement. You’ll note when parties have been able to ban the Thin Blue Line as a symbol of support for law enforcement they rarely provide an alternative symbol of support they will permit. That’s because there aren’t any.”
The Swantacks were threatened with litigation, and assessed fines and costs, by the homeowners group for flying the flag, and then for refusing to take it down.
The NPA previously was successful in fighting for the right of a Colorado homeowner to fly the flag from his home.
The case, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, seeks declarative and injunctive relief in the fight, which involves board members Joshua Moore, Zach Hazlett, Carlee Baumgardner, Jimmie Bryson, Blair Hartley and Jeremy Xander.
The Swantacks have lived in the community for several years, and wanted to fly the “Thin Blue Line” flag representing law enforcement to show their support for police officers.
However, the association quickly told them they could not display the emblem, and announced fines and costs for the “violations.”
“Because the Swantacks were effectively prevented from flying the Flag, owned by NPA, in accordance with their right to freedom of speech through defendants’ action by shifting legal fees … and threatening judicial enforcement, defendants action effectively chilled NPA and the Swantacks’ right to freedom of speech,” the complaint explains.
That means, the lawsuit charges, they suffered “irreparable harm.”
“The First Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits abridgement of the freedoms of speech and expression,” it says. “Courts have found that in cases in which restrictive covenants prevent homeowners from exercising their right to free speech, judicial enforcement of such bylaws alone would constitute state action so as to bring those bylaws into the ambit of the First Amendment.”
Further, it explains, “The United States Supreme Court has held that in the context of civil actions involving private parties and common law claims that ‘the application of state rules in state courts in a manner alleged to restrict First Amendment freedoms constitutes ‘state action’ under the Fourteenth Amendment.’”
Those limits, then, “are subject to scrutiny under the First Amendment.”
“Because First Amendment protections are so strong for political speech inherent in residential flags, it cannot be reasonable for a homeowners’ association to restrict such flags.”
The action points out that the association did allow other flags that it selected, but refused to honor the Thin Blue Line.
The action seeks a ruling that the association cannot retaliate, and must pay interest, costs and attorneys’ fees.