Hundreds of New Jersey residents turned out Sunday to protest a decision made by state leaders to remove American flags that had been posted on overpasses across the state to honor our military veterans and those who lost their lives in the Muslim terrorist attacks of 2001.
The New Jersey Turnpike Association has already confiscated an untold number of signs and replaced them with warning placards.
“Placement of signage or items of any nature on this structure is strictly prohibited,” the message read.
The flags had been maintained and replaced over the years by groups of veterans, police departments and volunteers.
The union representing police officers in Robbinsville was especially upset to discover that newly purchased flags had been confiscated by the New Jersey Turnpike Association.
“We cannot understand why the NJTPA. has suddenly decided to abandon a tradition of patriotism and respect for our veterans. It is not known what happened to the brand new flags that we put up, but we truly hope they were respectfully disposed of, if not displayed elsewhere,” union leaders wrote in a statement.
The New Jersey Turnpike Association says they made the decision to remove all of the flags because they could not guarantee all the flags would be properly maintained.
“While we appreciate the desire of some New Jersey residents to express their patriotism in these turbulent times by displaying flags on Turnpike and Parkway overpasses, Turnpike Authority regulations do not allow it, and for good reason,” it wrote.
The very least they could do would be to return the dozens of flags that were purchased by police officers.
“The Turnpike and Parkway run through more than 100 municipalities and include more than 1,100 bridges and other structures. The NJTA cannot adequately monitor flags mounted by private citizens to make sure they are safely and securely hung, properly displayed, and respectfully maintained.”
Or maybe Old Glory has fallen victim to the Cancel Culture mob. That’s the only viable explanation for ending a 19-year tradition of flying Star-Spangled Banner from a taxpayer-owned overpass.
“While we appreciate the desire of some New Jersey residents to express their patriotism in these turbulent times by displaying flags on Turnpike and Parkway overpasses, Authority regulations do not allow it, and for good reason,” said Tom Feeney, a Turnpike Authority spokesman. “The NJTA cannot adequately monitor flags mounted by private citizens to make sure they are safely and securely hung, properly displayed, and respectfully maintained.”
Authority officials are treating the flags as they would any unauthorized advertisement or banner hung from an overpass, he said. Officials cited a statue that bans “any displays, posters, or placards, or display any advertising matter of any kind, regardless of the character or content of the message, on the roadway.”
Two Central Jersey lawmakers said they plan to change that statute to keep the unofficial flags flying. Senator Declan O’Scanlon and Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso, both R-Monmouth, plan to introduce a bill to exempt display of American flags from the statute and asked Gov. Phil Murphy to intervene.
“I want to fix the law that will allow flying the American flag. We should be able to, provided it is done safety and in a non-distracting way,” O’Scanlon said. “I remember how inspired I was on Sept. 12 (2001) (seeing flags displayed on overpasses) and since then. We cant lose that because of some bureaucratic concern.”
O’Scanlon said he spoke to some Turnpike officials, who told him one concern is the proliferation of “all kinds of flags” displayed on overpasses supporting other causes and that there were safety and legal concerns.
“I’d have preferred they come to us and say let’s solve it legislatively, rather than tear them all down,” O’Scanlon said.
In Robbinsville, the police department union plans to hold an event Friday to replace the American flags on the Turnpike overpass in that Mercer County town as well as an I-195 overpass.
Veterans organizations also were dismayed at the decision can called it disrespectful.
“This is another example of state failing to recognize the sacrifice of veterans and emergency service personnel that became prevalent after 9-11,” said Kenneth Hagemann, Veterans of Foreign Wars state adjutant. “We feel the state is discouraging displays of patriotism.”
Instead of a ban, the authority could put some common sense rules in place to address their concerns, he said.
“They could come out with some guidance on proper display of flags on overpass, it could be a simple fix…like adopt-a-highway,” Hagemann said. “The VFW isn’t against regulations on it for safety and out of respect for flag.”
Those regulations could tell groups and individuals how to properly fasten a flag for display, how many were allowed and to spell out responsibility for the flags, he said.
Other lawmakers said they plan to introduce legislation after reading about the authority’s decision, including Assemblyman Dan Benson, D-Middlesex, Assembly transportation committee chairman.
The Turnpike and Parkway run through more than 100 municipalities and include more than 1,100 bridges and other structures, Feeney said. Feeney also cited “the long-standing policy of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority has been to prohibit the display of any flags, signs, or banners by private parties on Authority property.”
Officials also cited proper respect for the flag as another reason for removing the overpass displays. Flags at authority garages, office and other buildings, which are on suitable flagpoles, are lit at night, lowered to half-staff when the nation or state is in a period of mourning and replaced when they are faded or damaged, he said.
“Those flags are treated with the utmost respect by Turnpike Authority personnel,” Feeney said. “The Turnpike Authority appreciates and applauds patriotism. We try to express patriotism ourselves every day by maintaining dozens of American flags at (our) properties.”
O’Scanlon refuted the notion that road crews can’t monitor the condition of flags on overpasses on the Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway, which the authority operates, O’Scanlon said.
“We hope that the Governor will override the NJTA’s faulty logic and decision here,” O’Scanlon said. “If not, we call on our colleagues in the legislature to stand behind our bill and prove that we as New Jerseyans love and respect our country.”