Federal Lawsuit Challenges Constitutionality of Hamtramck's Ban on Pride Flag

November 06, 2023, 1:12 PM by  Allan Lengel

Hamtramck City Hall

The battle over the Pride flag in Hamtramck isn't over.

On Monday, two former Hamtramck officials filed a federal lawsuit against the city, the council and Mayor Amer Ghalib, challenging the constitutionality of a June council resolution that bans the display of the Pride flag on government property.

Cathy Stackpoole and Russ Gordon, former commissioners on the Hamtramck Human Relations Commission, filed the suit in Detroit federal court, alleging the controversial resolution violates the freedom of speech clause under the First Amendment and the equal protection clause under the Fourteenth Amendment.

In June, the six-member council blocked the display of Pride flags on city property, which angered allies and members of the LGBTQ+ community, who say they supported immigrant groups, but now feel betrayed by the council, which is comprised of all Muslim immigrants.

Critics have accused the council of trying to avert consitutional challenges to the banning of the Pride flag by passing a resolution that banned all flags on government property except for the American, state, city and Prisoner of War ones. Pride flags can still be displayed on private property, including in the business district.

The mayor has insisted the ban is all about neutrality and preventing special interest groups from promoting their agenda on city property.

"This was expected," the mayor said in a statement to Deadline Detroit about the lawsuit. "Another unnecessary distraction by the former power structure that doesn't like to see the city moving forward. Good things are happening for the first time in decades such as budget surplus and infrastructure repair. This exposes the former egregious leadership failure, therefore they want to constantly create obstacles on our way.

"The neutrality resolution is legal and constitutional," he said. "The city doesn't discriminate, or give any preferential treatment to any group. The taxpayer government buildings or spaces belong to everyone and cannot be used by specific group to promote special interest group's agenda."

Stackpoole, who is also a former city council member, and Gordon, were both fired by the council in July from the Hamtramck Human Relations Commission for being involved in raising the Pride flag on city property after the resolution had already passed. The flag stayed up briefly before the city removed it.

City Council and Mayor Ghalib (second from right) at council meeting in the summer.

The lawsuit alleges that their firings were unconsitutional, and argues that they were disobeying an unconsitutional resolution passed by the council. The suit asks that the firings be rescinded and they be reinstated to the commission.

The suit also says that Stackpoole and Gordon suffered "emotional distress, embarrassment and humiliation" after being fired and accused of being law breakers. It asks that they be awarded compensatory, exemplary and punitive damages.

The mayor said the city acted properly by dismissing the commissioners:

"As commissioners, they broke their oath and they were in defiance of the city's rules and regulations, therefore they should be held accountable for Two things: first, taking decisions without having meetings or quorum for the human relations commission. Second, for putting the flag up on city flag pole after" the city council passed resolution the resolution.

Flags have a unique history in Hamtramck, a city of about 28,000 people, and about two-square miles.

Since 2013

A 2013 council resolution directed the Human Relations Commission to manage the display of those representing various groups and nationalities on the city’s 18 poles on Joseph Campau Street. The Pride flag went up across from City Hall in 2021, but only after then-mayor Karen Majewski broke a 3-3 council tie. The next year, despite some officials’ opposition, it flew along with flags representing various countries, the African Union, Cherokee Nation and others.

The suit asks that "all the other flags which were being displayed on Joseph Campau prior to the resolution's passage, be re-displayed." Currently each pole displays American flags.

Invokes Religion

Councilman Nayeem Choudhury earlier this year said publicly about the LGBQT+ community, according to the lawsuit:

"You guys are welcome to the community. You guys (are) welcome to walk to the restaurants, walk to the grocery store. Why do we have to have a flag flown in the city property to be represented? You already represented."

He went on to say: "We have to respect the religions. We have to respect the people around here. Schools, mosques, churches." 

The suit states that governments are prohibited from enacting any statute, ordinance or resolution or policy based on religious beliefs. 

Some proponents of the ban of the Pride flag have pointed out that homosexuality is forbidden under Islamic law.

All six council members did not immediately respond to emails for comment.

In a Sept. 16  Washington Post article, the mayor defended the council's action on the resolution.  

“We’re not targeting anybody,” he said. “We are trying to close the door for other groups that could be extremist or racist.”

Stackpoole tells Deadline Detroit on Monday:

"The point of the lawsuit is to get all flags raised; the nations' flags, the Pride flag. Everyone can be represented in Hamtramck. I'm not interested in money or any compensation, just the cost of the lawsuit."

Read lawsuit

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