City flagpoles outside the Augusta City Center during voting on Nov. 3, 2020. A majority of councilors made the decision that city flagpoles will only fly governmental flags. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — City flagpoles won’t be flying an Irish flag, as requested. Nor an LGBTQ+ Pride flag, nor any flag other than flags for the city of Augusta, state of Maine or United States.

A majority of city councilors have made that decision in response to a request from the Maine Irish Heritage Center that the city fly an Irish flag on St. Patrick’s Day next month. But councilors said the city should stick to only displaying city, state and U.S. flags, and doesn’t need to consider a policy on what other flags may, or may not, be allowed to be flown on city flagpoles.

The issue first arose, but wasn’t fully addressed, last June in response to a request the city fly a LGBTQ+ Pride flag, for Pride Month. City councilors declined to do so, without a flag policy in place, out of concern that allowing one group to fly a flag on city property would open the city up to requests from other groups. And they worried the city could be sued should it deny a group’s request to fly a particular flag, while allowing the flags of other groups.

With the issue being raised again by the recent request from the Maine Irish Heritage Center, City Manager Susan Robertson asked if city councilors wanted Augusta to draft a flag policy to set out whether other flags should be allowed on city property and, if so, how it would be determined which flags would, and would not, be allowed.

Councilors on Thursday cited the same concerns they had previously, with some saying they didn’t want to be the “flag police.” They also said the city should not draft a new flag policy and should instead stick with the current rules of only displaying official accepted governmental flags.

“It may be problematic if we fly one flag other than the U.S. flag, state flag and I’d say municipal flag,” said Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind. “Boston used to allow a lot of flags and they denied a Christian flag. And now they’re sitting before the Supreme Court. I think this could be a distraction for us. We have the ability to do proclamations. We have the ability to recognize organizations, without flying a flag. I don’t want to become the flag police. And I don’t want to be sitting in this body debating whether we should fly a Confederate flag or another flag.”


The city of Boston was sued, in a case now before the Supreme Court, after a conservative activist’s request to fly a flag he called the Christian flag on a city flagpole was denied.

There are three flagpoles outside Boston City Hall that fly the U.S., Massachusetts and Boston flags. The city sometimes takes down its own flag and temporarily hoists another flag. Boston has previously approved 284 straight applications to do so, until a city official turned away Harold Shurtleff’s request to fly the Christian flag.

Augusta apparently flew an Irish flag last year, but councilors didn’t know about it and weren’t asked, Lind said.

Augusta Mayor Mark O’Brien said there are other ways groups can express themselves, such as with gatherings, demonstrations and proclamations, and “they don’t need to be on a flagpole.”

“That way we avoid offending somebody and getting bogged down in what kind of speech the council should be engaged in,” O’Brien said. “So we can say no to everyone, equally.”

At Large Councilor Courtney Allen said she disagreed, and said she thinks the city should look at what other flags it could allow to be flown on city flagpoles. She said previously the city should show support for the Pride movement and displaying the Pride flag would be a way to do that. But she acknowledged Thursday, with several other councilors in agreement the city should not allow other flags, that she’d be outvoted should the issue ever get as far as a vote.


Instead of allowing a Pride flag to be displayed last June, councilors instead issued a proclamation, expressing the city’s support for LGBTQ+ community members.

Other communities, including neighboring Hallowell, marked Pride Month last year by displaying Pride flags on municipal flagpoles.

And, last St. Patrick’s Day in Biddeford, the city flew an Irish flag which officials said was a tradition going back decades.

Officials of the Maine Irish Heritage Center could not be reached for comment Friday.

The city of South Portland’s flag policy was provided to councilors as an example of a municipal flag policy. The policy states the display of ceremonial or commemorative flags must be approved by the city council by adoption of an order prior to the display. And it states the city shall not display a ceremonial or commemorative flag based on a request from a third party, nor will the city use its flagpoles to sponsor the expression of a third party.

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