The Heber City Council recently updated the city’s policy regarding banners posted on Main Street’s light posts. This was partially in response to an emotionally-charged, split opinion among local residents concerning Pride banners, which have been allowed on the City’s light posts for the past two years.
Heber City Council Member Ryan Stack, an attorney who has worked as a public prosecutor since 2007 and has served on a Utah Supreme Court Advisory Committee, explained why the change was necessary. “Last year’s conversation regarding the Pride banners included several mentions about possible [negative] reply banners.” Because, from a legal standpoint, the old banner policy created a “limited public forum,” the City would not be able to regulate content, and any banners, no matter what they said, would have to be allowed to hang on the City’s light posts.
The City Council was concerned about possible response banners being used to “infuriate and offend” people on both sides of the issues. Legally, Heber City “would have to allow any . . . banners, even those submitted by well-known hate groups . . . clearly designed to inflame and disrupt,” explained Stack. If the City reserved the right to choose which private speech was allowed, it would be discriminating against other free speech. A legal “slippery slope” would be created, meaning that the City would be obligated to allow all private banners.
The City Council opted, instead, to reserve the city-owned light poles as a space for the City to promote its government-run events, rather than open them up to all possible private messages. Stack said that his vote for the new ordinance was only meant to protect Heber City from potential liability. From a legal perspective, the only way to guard against perceived favoritism is to allow all public speech or allow none, according to Stack. “This is a sensitive issue,” he continued, “and I understand the need to redraft our banner ordinance has been misunderstood by some as an attack on the Pride banners. This is not the case.”
Heber City Mayor Kelleen Potter added, “It’s important to recognize this policy applies only to banners hung by the City on poles in our downtown. This does not affect private citizens’ or businesses’ ability to hang a Pride flag if they desire.” She continued, “I recognize for many in the LGBTQ community and allies, this policy is a painful loss after enjoying celebrating the Pride banners for the last two years. I encourage everyone who recognizes the value of those banners to come together and figure out how we can be more supportive of our vulnerable LGBTQ community members.”