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Don't Tread on Me': Fed-Up Veterans File Free Speech Lawsuit Against City Officials Over Flag Ban

"unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious"

In this April 26, 2013 file photo, Peter Parente, president of the United Veterans Memorial and Patriotic Association, holds a Gadsden flag outside an armory in New Rochelle, N.Y. In a lawsuit filed in federal court, the veterans who put the flag up say the city order was unreasonable and arbitrary. They say it violated their constitutional rights. Credit: AP

A veterans group has filed a free speech lawsuit against officials who banned a "Don't Tread on Me" flag from a city-owned armory because they viewed the flag as a Tea Party symbol.

The lawsuit says the actions of officials in New Rochelle, N.Y., in addition to being unconstitutional, are "unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious" and demonstrate a lack of appreciation of history, according to the Associated Press.

Peter Parente, president of the United Veterans Memorial and Patriotic Association, holds a Gadsden flag outside an armory in New Rochelle, N.Y. In a lawsuit filed in federal court, the veterans who put the flag up say the city order was unreasonable and arbitrary. They say it violated their constitutional rights. (Credit: AP)

The veterans group had flown the flag—used by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps since 1775—at the New Rochelle Armory; the city council voted to have the flag removed in March, the AP reports.

The Gadsden Flag has been used as an unofficial Tea Party symbol since at least 2008, the AP says, and is often seen at tax protests and gun-rights rallies.

Council members said that because Peter Parente, president of the veterans group, is a Tea Party member, he is simply trying to make a political statement.

Parente acknowledged that while he is a “proud Republican,” no one in his veterans’ group belongs to the Tea Party, which the lawsuit reiterates.

The lawsuit declares that "contrary to defendants' unfounded, subjective (and incorrect) belief," their raising the Gadsden flag was meant only "to honor the veterans who have served and died for our country under the rattlesnake image and the words 'Don't Tread on Me' since the American Revolution," the AP notes.

According to the website Talk of the Sound, one council member compared the Gadsden flag to the gay pride flag while another member likened it to Nazi and even Mickey Mouse flags.

The Thomas More Law Center is representing the veterans group and claimed that if one were to use the city council’s logic, even the Stars and Stripes would be removed from flagpoles around the country "because both Democrat and Republican Parties, as well as most political candidates, use the Stars and Stripes in their campaign messaging,” said Richard Thompson, president of the center.

The lawsuit names the mayor, city manager, and four city council members, requests an injunction and "nominal and compensatory damages," the AP reports, adding that city officials did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

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