It took a Vietnam War veteran -- and a slew of really, really bad publicity -- to remind a northeast Ohio homeowners association and the former politician who runs the place just what Independence Day means.
The story of Fred Quigley's fight with the "Villas of Taramina" is textbook Americana: one man's war waged to honor why he went to war to begin with.
It's a story that seems to play itself out annually across the country, and in 2011 it was right here at home. As a matter of fact, right down the road from where I live.
The "Villas" is a collection of cluster homes just off Ohio Route 82 in Macedonia, which likes to bill itself as the "Crossroads of Ohio." It's a nice enough place, so nice in fact that Coblentz Homes points with pride to the awards for design for their development aimed at "active adults" looking for the kind of "exclusive community" so attractive to "discriminating buyers."
That's all well and good, and more power to 'em. But the problem was one discriminating buyer who felt he was being discriminated against because he put up a flagpole to actively fly his flag. You know, that flag he fought for. That flag some of his friends died for. That flag that covers some of the caskets of the sons and daughters returning home from their generation's wars.
Yes, that flag.
The Homeowners Association first played hardball, expressed by the former Mayor of Macedonia and former Director of Development for Summit County, Joe Migliorini. Threats of lawsuits because the flagpole doesn't meet those "exclusive" rules and regulations. Besides, neighbors didn't like it. Exclusive to them apparently meant you couldn't put up the flag of the nation you live in, the nation you work in, the nation you retired in, because it seemed to be against the rules of the community you lived in.
But Fred Quigley understood what the flag meant, and why blood continues to be spilled for it.
America is different than other countries, what our flag represents is different from what other flags may represent.
This is a place where all of us are free, to an extent not found in many other corners of the world, to express ourselves openly without the threat of government retribution. Whether that government is the one we elect or the one put in place when a developer hands things over to a homeowners association.
Frankly, I'm surprised it took the Association as long as it did to cave and write Quigley telling him the fight was over before it wound up in court. I'm surprised former Mayor and county official Migliorini didn't step in earlier and publicly defuse the issue before it got to the point where veterans groups joined Quigley in defense of the Stars and Stripes.
Lawyers and managers of Associations will shake their heads because the rules weren't followed to the letter, ignoring a bigger picture: are the rules more important than the issue of your display? These issues include the flying of the flag, but also the display of Christmas lights during the holiday season -- and yes, I mean Christmas lights, not "holiday lighting displays." Or talk of religion in a public place, like a school.
The U.S. Supreme Court rules a cadre of small-minded wackos from the a small church in the Midwest has the right to protest, even when their words are hateful and cause pain to the families of our war dead who grieve past signs declaring it's God's punishment. And a homeowners association wants to stop a veteran from putting a flagpole on his property to fly the flag?
It's a true WTF moment.
The Constitution we honor this weekend says the government shall make no law infringing on our free speech. We accept you can't yell fire in a crowded theater; we allow laws on the books against inciting to riot. Fred Quigley's case is neither of those examples, unless you are afraid to call out the twisted rationale that so easily hands over our rights to those who would paint "the rules" as more important.
Fred Quigley wasn't inciting violence. He wasn't yelling "fire" by flying Red, White and Blue. But he was providing us a very basic lesson we should all take to heart: one person, in America, still makes a difference. Individual freedoms are worth fighting for, whether with associations of neighbors or those who hold the power. Because it's still the power we give them. And it's always ours to take back.
Thanks, Mr. Quigley, for the timely reminder that the long July 4th holiday isn't just for cooking out, laying back and chillin' out.
It's Independence Day.