Capitol Police: Flags at rallies not always OK

TOPEKA — A patrol lieutenant was concerned about a potential counterprotest in refusing to allow people conducting a rally last week against Gov. Sam Brownback to bring flagpoles onto Statehouse grounds, the head of the Kansas Highway Patrol's Capitol Police said.

The Kansas Equality Commission said it's not fair that its members were told they couldn't carry mounted flags at their rally Friday, when other groups had been allowed to carry mounted flags and signs at their rallies. KEC chairman Thomas Witt became angry Friday when told about the flagpole issue and demanded to be shown the law that prohibited flagpoles.

Capitol Police Capt. Marc McCune said his officers have the authority to keep people from bringing the flagpoles onto Capitol grounds if they think they may present a danger.

Members of Topeka's Westboro Baptist Church held their own rally across the street in front of the state judicial building while the KEC held its rally, and that was a factor in the decision, McCune said. Westboro Baptist is known for its anti-gay demonstrations across the country, and McCune said the officer in charge thought the situation warranted extra precautions.

The Capitol Police commander said that there is a difference between an event, a protest and a rally and that sometimes they're treated differently. All rallies or protests sponsored by private organizations or individuals are subject to the same rules, McCune said, and Capitol Police officers did ask some people at an anti-abortion rally earlier this year to remove their flagpoles and sticks.

All groups seeking to hold an event at the Statehouse or other state building are required to fill out an application found on the Department of Administration's website. The application includes policies regarding the activities, including restrictions on hanging, nailing or placing anything within the capitol complex.

Brownback's spokeswoman, Sherriene Jones-Sontag, said the policy was put in place in January 2009 because of ongoing renovation to the Statehouse that forced the relocation of inside events. She said that the administration made no changes to the policy and that law enforcement was given the authority to further restrict activities during events to protect public safety.

The governor was the target of the rally because of his intention to attend a prayer rally in August in Houston hosted by Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Witt said that the rally started later than the 3 p.m. announced time and that his group was ordered not to use flagpoles before the church group arrived at 3:30 p.m. Members of both groups stood on opposite sides of the street and exchanged chants, slogans and hymns.