Decorah council denies man's application to fly Trump flag on Water Street

Thomas Hansen, Winneshiek County Republican Party chairman, holds a flag that reads...
Thomas Hansen, Winneshiek County Republican Party chairman, holds a flag that reads "President Trump" in front of the Decorah City Council on June 17, 2019 (Mary Green/KCRG)(KCRG)
Published: Jun. 17, 2019 at 10:56 PM CDT
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The city of Decorah has settled a debate over whether or not a political flag in support of President Donald Trump can fly down its main street.

Earlier this month, the Winneshiek County Republican Party asked the city council for approval to fly a flag with the words “President Trump” and "Make America Great Again" printed across it.

The council denied the request because the Republican Party had submitted it too late.

On Monday, they faced the same question, but this time, the request was for the Fourth of July, and it was submitted in time.

But like the last time, the council turned the application down, in a 6-1 vote.

Thomas Hansen, chair of the Winneshiek County Republican Party, said he believed that, based off what some council members said at the earlier meeting, the flag would be approved if he removed the phrase, "Make America Great Again,” which he did for Monday’s meeting and public hearing.

“We have a right to have those opinions and express those opinions, and I think it really hurts the country when you have one group being silenced,” he said.

But after the first denial, some council members said they were asked to do it again.

"I've been overwhelmed by community members and constituents, asking me to deny this request, specifically because it is being viewed as derisive, rather than as broadly supported within our community,” Ward 5 council member Johanna Bergan said.

Bergan said she voted against Hansen’s request because it didn't fit with Decorah's flag policy.

"In our policy, it does state that we're looking for flags to be approved that are inclusive in nature and of broad interest to our community,” she said.

Originally, the city’s flag policy stated that only certain flags could be flown from city flag poles on Water Street — the American flag, Scandinavian flags, and flags from Luther College and local high schools.

But last year, community members asked the city to fly rainbow pride flags in conjunction with the city’s first pride celebration. To do that, the city amended its flag policy, allowing any group to apply to have its flag flown on Water Street, which would need city council approval.

But Hansen said he didn't feel the “President Trump” flag was any more political than a pride flag, and felt displaying that flag would show the city's diversity.

"We had a National Prayer Day here back on, I believe it was May 2, and like I said, we had the gay pride parade, and we wanted to have this, and apparently this is unacceptable to them,” he said.

Council members said this is an opportunity to update the flag policy, which they plan to discuss at an upcoming meeting.

“Clearly our flag policy, as we were amending it, did not include a political definition,” Bergan said. “I think I am among the council members that are realizing that that was an oversight."

KCRG also reached out to the Winneshiek County Democratic Party, who said they agreed with the council’s decision Monday, adding that they believe city property isn’t the appropriate venue for political party messages or images.

As for the Winneshiek County Republicans, they're planning on having a Fourth of July celebration at Water Street Park, and Hansen says he will mostly likely hang the flags up there.