Selectboard issues statement condemning display of Nazi flag

TOWNSHEND — The appearance of a Nazi flag flying in front of a private residence in the center of town has prompted the Selectboard to issue a statement condemning the act.

After residents and concerned people from neighboring towns brought the matter before the Selectboard at its Oct. 12 meeting, Chair Sherwood Lake Jr. wrote in an Oct. 21 email to The Commons that “a commitment was made by the board to address the concerns presented in the situation and hate-based behavior in general.”

Lake wrote that after the board consulted with legal counsel, it decided to issue this statement: “The Town of Townshend values all residents and visitors, no matter their backgrounds or identities. While differences of opinions can be celebrated and debated, we condemn symbols of hate being displayed in our town, in disregard of the welcoming nature of our community as a whole.”

At the Oct. 12 Selectboard meeting, Jenny Kessler of West Townshend read an open letter to the Selectboard describing the flag incident.

“On Thursday, Sept. 16, there was a Nazi flag flying at the private residence of 2015 Route 30,” Kessler said. “It's very possible the flag was there before then, but I saw it on Sept. 16. The flag was no longer there on the afternoon of Monday, Sept. 20. The flag's presence corresponded with the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in the Jewish religion, and came down on Sukkot, which marks the end of Jewish Holidays.

“I was deeply disturbed to see a Nazi flag hanging in my community. This home is located in the center of town, very close to both Leland & Gray and Townshend Elementary School, where my son is a Pre-K student.

“It is also a few steps from the library, where children and adults go to enjoy time with their families and borrow books. It's also on the way to Grace Cottage, where many local residents receive their medical care.

“The Nazi flag is an internationally recognized symbol of hatred and violence. Flying a swastika during Jewish High Holidays equates to intimidation, and it makes our schools and library less safe and welcoming for all.

“Townshend is a welcoming and diverse community that values people of all backgrounds, races, religions, and identities. I fully understand the value of free speech; however, there is no value in flying a flag that represents the murder of 6 million people. While the town cannot legally prohibit a certain flag from flying on private property, the town can and should condemn such hostile actions to the community at large.”

Kessler asked the town to consider making a public statement to condemn the act. Several other individuals from neighboring offered testimony via Zoom supporting her request.

She said her letter had received more than 300 signatures from local residents. It also contained statements of support for a formal condemnation of the flag incident from the Jamaica, Newfane, and Dover selectboards.

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