A federal judge ruled this week in Pennsylvania State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police v. Twp. of Springfield, 2023 WL 7547494 (E.D.Pa. Nov. 13, 2023), that a resolution by a township of the first class prohibiting the display of the “Thin Blue Line” American flag on all township property was an unconstitutional restriction on employee speech under the First Amendment.
Numerous police officers displayed the Thin Blue Line American flag at the police station in the township building; it also appears in other areas with limited public access. After receiving resident complaints, the township board of commissioners sent a cease-and-desist letter to the police union because the display of the flag “unnecessarily exacerbates the ongoing conflict between police officers and the communities they serve.” It then adopted the resolution at issue.
The court found the resolution overbroad and underinclusive in that all township employees can engage in other forms of discourse that could exacerbate racial tension and undermine public confidence. It also found that it is “likely difficult for Township employees and residents alike to know whom the restrictions apply. Similarly, it is unclear where the restrictions apply.” (emphasis in original)