The Yakima City Council repealed the policy that allows guest flags to be flown on city buildings to honor heritage months, awards, achievements, or groups.
The policy, passed in 2020, authorized the permanent or temporary display of flags or banners with the issuance of a federal, state or municipal proclamation, according to the ordinance.
Council member Patricia Byers said politics becomes an issue when multiple parties ask to fly a flag at the same time. That issue came up recently, she said, when the city received two guest flag requests for June, one from Yakima Pride and one from Yakima Valley Alliance.
“It puts us in a position where we have to pick a winner and a loser and opens the city up to a potential lawsuit,” Byers said during a council study session on Tuesday. “I just think it’s a reckless thing to do (and) an unnecessary door to open.”
The Yakima Valley Alliance Facebook page describes the group as a political organization. The page does not state a mission, but more recent posts show opposition to COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates and support for conservative political candidates. The group supported local conservative-leaning candidates in last fall’s election, including council member Matt Brown.
Yakima Pride is a non-profit organization that supports the LGBTQ community in Yakima through awareness, events, and advocacy.
The City of Yakima has flown the Pride Flag over City Hall during the month of June, also known as Pride Month, since the implementation of the flag policy in 2020. The Council first agreed to fly the flag that celebrates LGBTQ rights over City Hall. in June 2020 and again in June 2021.
Byers said she opposed the flag policy when it was first approved by council because it turns city property into a public forum.
She and Brown also raised concerns related to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The ruling said the City of Boston violated a conservative activist’s free speech rights by denying his request to fly a Christian flag in front of City Hall.
“I think it’s just a wise move on the board’s part not to open ourselves up to huge litigation,” Brown said.
Council member Holly Cousens said she supports rescinding the policy to make it fair and equitable.
“We really don’t want to be forced to choose one organization over another. This is not a position the city would take,” Cousens said.
The board unanimously agreed to rescind the policy during Tuesday’s study session. A final decision can be taken on an item during a study session if the item is on the agenda of the meeting.
“What that does is it doesn’t make it a public forum anymore,” Byers said. “It just makes, you know, government flags on government buildings.”
The United States, Washington State and POW/Missing in Action flags will continue to fly outside City Hall.