It was a grand gesture when Gov. Tony Evers ordered the rainbow flag to be flown over the state Capitol last week to celebrate the hard-fought gains the state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has made in recent years to overcome discrimination and social stigma.
It was also a big mistake.
We have no quarrel with Evers’ attempt to send a message that Wisconsin is — or should be — a welcoming and inclusive place where everyone can live without fear of persecution, judgment or discrimination.
But we have a great problem with the idea that this governor — or any governor — should elevate this social and political cause or any such cause over another and thus give it the imprimatur of state government.
That’s government-sponsored speech, not free speech, and that’s not something we should be running up the flagpole.
We fear Evers has now opened up a Pandora’s box for any and all sorts of causes to demand air time over the state’s Capitol and that will likely lead to disputes and possible lawsuits.
According to news reports, a governor’s spokesperson said Evers alone has the authority to decide which banners can or should grace the Capitol flagpole. Will we then see requests for flags emblazoned with “Pro Choice” or “Pro Life” depending on who is the current occupant of the governor’s seat? Will there be requests to fly the flag of Mexico on Cinco de Mayo to honor the state’s sizeable Mexican-American citizen population — and perhaps make a statement on immigration policy?
Certainly, we could expect the Sons of Confederate Veterans to ask Evers to fly the Confederate battle flag over his office — a gesture that would be viewed both as an homage to Confederate soldiers and as a symbol of racism and bigotry at the same time. Or, perhaps, a political banner with the message “Vote Evers” would fly in the weeks before an election.
And what, we have to ask, happened to the only other flag that has graced the Capitol flagpole below the Stars and Stripes and the state flag of Wisconsin — the black and white POW/MIA flag? Was that put in storage for the month to be replaced by the rainbow flag? Does that send a message that we have forgotten those we pledged never to forget?
The first time Evers rejects a request to fly a banner over the state Capitol from a group with a social/political agenda that wants to elevate the visibility of its cause — whether it is just or abhorrent — we expect it could well land the state in court to defend its favoritism.
How would the governor — this one or any one — decide what flies and what does not? That’s a determination that should not be left to the whim of a sitting governor. Nor do we want to see the state Legislature get involved and come up with some flag-flying legislation.
The flags flying over the state Capitol should represent the people of the United States and the citizens of Wisconsin and its missing veterans — all the people — and not be used to exalt one political cause or another.
Those causes and concerns, many of them heartfelt, can be sorted out under the Capitol dome, on the floors of the state Senate and Assembly, and in the governor’s office. Where they should be.