A federal court ruled that Springfield Township’s resolution banning the public display of the “thin blue line” flag by township employees is unconstitutional.
A federal court ruled on Nov. 13 that Springfield Township’s resolution banning the public display of the “thin blue line” American flag by township employees is unconstitutional.
In the 36-page ruling, Judge Karen Marston of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs – two police unions and three police officers – finding that Springfield Township's ban on displaying the flag on township property violates the First Amendment rights of township employees.
The dispute arose after the local police union incorporated the thin blue line flag into its logo, sparking backlash from some community members who view the flag as a racist symbol. In response, the township adopted the resolution prohibiting township employees from publicly displaying the flag while working or in uniform, even when off-duty, or bringing depictions of the flag into the township building where they could be seen.
In the lawsuit, the police officers argued the ban violated their free speech rights and constituted viewpoint discrimination by prohibiting the expression of a particular perspective. The court agreed, finding that the resolution regulates speech on a matter of public concern but is not justified by any real disruption caused by displays of the flag.
Judge Marston wrote that the township "failed to show that displays of the flag have led to workplace disruption or strain between the police department and residents." She also found the ban was overbroad, restricting speech beyond what was necessary to address the township's concerns, and underinclusive by allowing other speech that could exacerbate racial tensions.
The court concluded the blanket prohibition on a symbol with particular viewpoints amounted to unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. By granting summary judgment, the judge issued a permanent injunction barring the township from enforcing the resolution.
Michael Taylor, the township’s manager, said the township’s board is aware of the decision but issued no further comment.