Date: July 12, 2007
Byline: Ann Schrader
Silent protest raises outcry
UPSIDE-DOWN U.S. FLAG
Beth Hammer has turned her gated Wheat Ridge community upside down with her upside-down display of the U.S. flag.
On March 19 — the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq — Hammer decided to hang her flag upside down, which under the federal flag code is a signal of distress.
The 64-year-old retired banker said flying the flag with the white-starred blue field — called the union — on the bottom is her silent protest.
"I think the war in Iraq has put this country in distress," Hammer said. "We are losing lives, liberty and our honor."
Hammer contends displaying the U.S. flag upside down is her First Amendment right of free speech. She has hired a Denver civil rights lawyer, Mari Newman.
"Just because she lives in a covenant-controlled community doesn't mean she gives up her rights to free speech," Newman said.
The Cambridge Park Homeowners Association, which represents owners of 107 patio homes, doesn't agree with Hammer's perspective.
On Wednesday night, the association's board met to hear her response to its notice of noncompliance. The board took no action, and board members refused to comment.
The board was minus one member: Hammer's husband, Doug, a board member who did not participate in the meeting but supports her.
The association board notified Beth Hammer in an April 24 letter that the flag display is against federal flag code and is in violation of the association's "patriotic and political expression policy."
The letter gave her a week to right the flag or face fines that appear to range from $25 to $500.
"Living in a community association offers many advantages to the homeowner, but at the same time, imposes some restrictions," said the letter signed by association manager Melissa Keithly.
"These restrictions are not meant as an inconvenience or an invasion of your freedom, but rather as a means of maintaining harmony in your community," the letter continued.
Most of her neighbors are unhappy, Hammer said. She does have supporters, although Hammer said, "I don't think they are enough to make a football team."
This isn't the first time Hammer has flown the flag this way. When she lived in a Lakewood neighborhood with no covenants, some neighbors expressed their opposition to her upside-down display.
"There were threats and whatever," she said.
When she moved to her current home in 2004, Hammer decided not to put up her flag "until our neighbors got to know us for who we are and not to judge us on how we hung our flag."
Then the Iraq war anniversary arose.
"I don't think of myself as a rabble-rouser," Hammer said. "To me, it's my personal protest as a First Amendment right to free speech."
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