Follansbee flag issue sign of times

It’s a sad state of affairs when the fear of the unknown in terms of free speech trumps a promotion of a well-known fund-raising event.

Thus it is that the city of Follansbee finds itself in the position of debating the posting of flags around the community promoting the annual Relay for Life. The Brooke/Hancock County event is one of hundreds of American Cancer Society relays held around the nation to raise funds for cancer research, prevention, education and patient services.

Hundreds of people locally take part in relays around the area.

But the relay itself, its participants and the American Cancer Society are not the issue.

Follansbee officials sadly, but perhaps rightly, point out that if they display the ACS Relay flags, the door is open for any other group that might come along and request city-sponsored publicity, even if it’s a group that the council does not support.

Follansbee bought 50 flags last year but did not display them because of such concerns, and officials debated the issue again this week. Neighboring cities have displayed the flags. Follansbee’s city attorney Michael Gaudio pointed out that once a town opens the door, it cannot choose which groups to support. And, Councilman Tom DiBattista’s suggestion that in the future groups wanting such flags to be displayed should pay for them makes sense.

The decision was made to display the flags from May 13 to June 2 in support of the event, which will be held June 1 and has been moved to the Follansbee Middle School football field from its previous location at Brooke stadium.

Again, its a sad state of affairs, perhaps, but perfectly understandable why the community debate was necessary for Follansbee.

While purchasing the flags was a well-intentioned move, it has to be tempered by the world in which we live, where groups of all stripes, some that might be offensive to others, can demand their fair share of support in the name of freedom.

And that’s the blessing, and the curse, of an open and free society, boiled down to the streets of Follansbee, W.Va.