The city of Hamtramck, Michigan, is facing a new lawsuit over a flag ban — which many saw as directed at LGBTQ+ pride flags — that its City Council enacted earlier this year.
The City Council of Hamtramck, an enclave of Detroit with a population of around 30,000 that is the first Muslim-majority city in the United States, passed a resolution in June restricting the types of flags that can be flown over city property. Per the terms of the resolution, the American flag, the Michigan flag, the Hamtramck city flag, the Prisoner of War–Missing in Action flag and “the nations’ flags that represent the international character of our city” are the only flags that can be displayed above city buildings, parks and other public areas.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Council member Nayeem Choudhury said the night the resolution passed that LGBTQ people were welcome, but asked: “Why do you have to have the flag shown on government property to be represented? You’re already represented. We already know who you are.”
In June, activist Gracie Cadieux told the American Independent that regardless of those comments, the Hamtramck City Council’s past actions made clear that the resolution targeted LGBTQ+ people and pride flags.
“It’s been a known fact that the city government is not queer-friendly in the slightest,” Cadieux said. “There have been multiple instances of the city government, as far as council members themselves, saying inappropriate things about the queer community, the mayor agreeing with people about inappropriate things about the queer community, and just very open about their hatred of us.”
On Nov. 6, two former city commissioners filed a federal lawsuit claiming the flag ban is unconstitutional. The City Council had fired the plaintiffs in July after they flew a pride flag over a public sidewalk.
The lawsuit names Hamtramck Mayor Amer Ghalib and the City Council’s members as defendants.
“We’re going to fight the bigotry,” one of the former commissioners, Russ Gordon, told the Detroit Free Press after the lawsuit was filed. “It’s religious bigotry.”
Gordon and Cathy Stackpoole, the suit’s other plaintiff, argue in the complaint that the City Council resolution violates the First Amendment by imposing religious values on Hamtramck residents. They cite comments made by public commenters in favor of the resolution as well as by Choudhury as evidence.
Of those who spoke in favor of the resolution at the City Council’s June 13 meeting, many cited their religion as justification, the lawsuit says.
“But we have to respect the religions. We have to respect the people around here. Schools, mosques, churches,” the lawsuit quotes Choudhury as saying.
“None of the other Councilmen said anything indicating that they disagreed with Councilman Choudhury’s invocation of religion as a basis for approving the Resolution,” the lawsuit says. “Their silence represented assent.”
Ghalib argued that the lawsuit is groundless.
“Another unnecessary distraction by the former power structure that doesn’t like to see the city moving forward,” Ghalib told the Free Press. “The neutrality resolution is legal and constitutional. 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 a specific group to promote a special interest group’s agenda.”
Gordon and Stackpoole are requesting the Council’s resolution be declared unconstitutional and that they be reinstated to their positions as city commissioners.