Police union to replace American flags on NJ Turnpike after officials barred them

Gov. Phil Murphy overruled Turnpike officials in their decision to remove informal displays of American flags on overpasses

By Larry Higgs
NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J.

ROBBINSVILLE, N.J. — Gov. Phil Murphy overruled the New Jersey Turnpike Authority’s decision to remove patriotic displays of American Flags from Garden State Parkway and Turnpike overpasses after an uproar about the decision to bar the informal displays.

“They’ve suspended that for the time being,” Murphy said during his Tuesday press briefing on the coronavirus after an NJ Advance Media reporter asked him about the ban.

Robbinsville Township police officers hang an American flag on an overpass that runs through their Township.
Robbinsville Township police officers hang an American flag on an overpass that runs through their Township. (Photo/Robbinsville Police Department via Facebook)

Murphy was initially asked about the ban during a morning WPG radio call-in talk show, during which he told host Harry Hurley he would reverse the ban.

“I didn’t like what I heard. After I got off the call, we spoke with the team,” he said at the afternoon coronavirus briefing. “At least for the time being, the Turnpike Authority has suspended that.”

The flag ban resulted in condemnations from veterans groups, a bi-partisan pledge by legislators to pass laws reinstating flag displays and promises by groups to replace the removed flags.

“I think its great and can’t wait to see the flags back up. We are in some dark times across our country and we need to be able to express a unified spirit of Americanism,” said Daniel Dunn, American Legion state Executive Committeeman for Middlesex County.

The decision came four days before the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and the downing of Flight 93 by passengers after terrorists took control. Residents attached flags to highway overpass fences as a show of solidarity and patriotism.

Veteran rallied on one overpass in Middlesex County on Sunday to protest the Turnpike Authority decision.

“The rally on the bridge was a small reminder of how our country came together like we did on 9/11,” Dunn said.

Turnpike Authority officials said displaying flags of any kind violated an administrative rule about advertising banners or flags. Another concern is the proliferation of “all kinds of flags” displayed on overpasses supporting other causes and that there were safety and legal concerns, said State Senator Declan O’Scanlon, who spoke to officials.

“I’d have preferred they come to us and say let’s solve it legislatively, rather than tear them all down,” O’Scanlon said.

Veterans groups echoed that opinion, suggesting common sense rules in place to address their concerns, said Kenneth Hagemann, Veterans of Foreign Wars state adjutant.

“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.”

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.

“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, said earlier Tuesday that there were concerns that some flags had become tattered and were not being maintained properly. Feeney did not answer questions about whether an incident or complaint prompted the ban on unauthorized advertisements or banners hung from overpasses.

Several Central Jersey lawmakers including O’Scanlon and Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso, both R-Monmouth, and Assembly Transportation Committee chairman Dan Benson, D-Middlesex, said they plan to introduce a bill to exempt display of American flags from the Turnpike Authority statute.

©2020 NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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