McHenry County to consider flag policy that would require supermajority of County Board support to fly non-government flag

One Board member said push to require supermajority was rooted in concerns over not wanting to fly gay pride flag, a sentiment others pushed back on

McHenry County raised the gay pride flag June 16 at its administrative building in Woodstock after the McHenry County Board proclaimed June as LGBTQIA Pride Month, it announced on Facebook that day.

McHenry County could soon have a flag policy, which, if approved, would end at least part of a nearly two-year debate centered around what flags can fly over county properties.

The policy, which will go up for a vote at the County Board meeting on Tuesday, would create a process for groups to fly their flags on the county’s flagpoles, but includes a provision requiring two-thirds of the County Board to approve any non-governmental flags.

One section of the policy specifies that county flagpoles are not meant to allow residents to express public or private thoughts, but instead are a showing of county speech and support. Beyond other ceremonial flags, those allowed to fly as part of the policy include the state of Illinois flag, the McHenry County flag, the U.S. flag and the MIA flag, according to the policy.

County Board members at a committee of the whole meeting on Thursday were supportive of the policy, but a few said they would rather have a flag vote be a simple majority rather than a supermajority.

The issue surrounding the county’s flag policy dates back a couple years, which some Board members then said was centered around not wanting to fly the gay pride flag.

County Board member Gloria Van Hof, D-Crystal Lake, said at Thursday’s meeting the push for a supermajority was about preventing the gay pride flag from flying, and “our homophobic views and fears.”

Many board members took issue with that comment, including County Board member Eric Hendricks, R-Lake in the Hills, who felt two-thirds was better as it helped create a consensus. He noted it was only two votes more than a simple majority, from 10 to 12 of the 18 total members.

Still, when asked by Van Hof if he would vote on behalf of the gay pride flag, Hendricks said he would not, as he only wants to fly government flags. He added he was supportive of gay marriage and had been for many years.

“I don’t really want to fly flags other than government flags, in general,” Hendricks said. “I would vote for a proclamation.”

County Board member Matt Kunkle, R-Algonquin, also said he was supportive of just allowing governmental flags to fly, adding he felt the county would spend too much time debating over which flags to allow otherwise.

“We all know whatever flag you fly will make some people happy, and some people unhappy,” Kunkle said. “I think it does as much harm as it does good.”

County Board member Jim Kearns, R-Huntley, said he wasn’t supportive of making it a simple majority, as any flag that flies is endorsed by the county.

“This is our speech of the county and it should be a supermajority of our board because it is … standing for everyone,” Kearns said.

In 2021, the County Board considered a resolution that would allow for an American flag, state of Illinois flag, a county flag, a POW/MIA flag and the Purple Heart flag to be flown at county government buildings.

At the time, several County Board members saw the resolution as an attempt to block the gay pride flag from being able to fly, as the policy did not specify if any flags beyond that list would be able to be displayed.

The resolution was tabled indefinitely. Then last year, a Supreme Court decision involving local governments and flag flying prompted county officials to halt any consideration of individual flags until it was known how the decision would affect the county.

In Shurtleff v. Boston, an organization attempted to fly a Christian flag on one of the city’s flagpoles for an event. The city of Boston rejected the request, citing the Constitution prohibiting the establishment of a religion.

The case was unanimously decided for Harold Shurtleff, saying it violated his First Amendment right, and did not constitute as speech by the government.

As a result, the County Board voted unanimously in favor of a proclamation recognizing June as gay pride month last year but opted against flying the gay pride flag because of unknowns surrounding the Supreme Court decision.

It was the first time in two years the county opted against flying the gay pride flag.

“Let’s make it easier for people to access the people’s house,” said County Board member Lou Ness, D-Woodstock, who was supportive of making the vote a simple majority. “They pay for this stuff.”