OLR Research Report

July 20, 2010




By: Susan Price, Senior Attorney

You asked the history of the Capitol Police policy and procedures for displaying flags on the center flagpole at the Capitol.


In 1999, Connecticut's State Capitol Police Department (SCPD), the department charged with granting and denying Capitol flag-raising requests, issued its first list of approved flags, a list that remains current. Under the policy, the only entities whose flags can now be raised are Connecticut's and the United States', those with some political connection to state or federal governments, nations with whom the United States has friendly relations, and certain military and veterans groups. Shortly before the policy was issued, a controversy had arisen over its having given a gay and lesbian organization permission to fly the Rainbow flag over the Capitol during a rally there. Raising the Rainbow flag is no longer allowed.

The policy was further narrowed on April 9, 2010 when acting SCPD Chief Walter Lee denied the request of a citizen's political group, the Tea Party Patriots, to fly the Gadsden flag. His reason for denial was that the flag-raising should not be carried out as part of a political event.


The SCPD policy was adopted in 1999 and modified in 2001, 2009, and 2010. To be on the list of flags that may be flown, the flag must belong to one of the following:

1. the United States or Connecticut;

2. a U.S. state or political subdivision;

3. the District of Columbia;

4. the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico;

5. the U.S. Virgin Islands;

6. any territory or insular possession subject to the jurisdiction of the United States;

7. an Indian tribe recognized by the United States;

8. any foreign jurisdiction with which the United States maintains diplomatic relations or its political subdivision, including the United Nations;

9. a recognized U.S. military organization, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion; and

10. an organization for POW/MIAs.

Source: (SCPD Administrative Policy and Procedure 2-10 -II)

Under the policy, the chief or his designee determines which flags meet policy criteria and thus may be flown on the Capitol flag pole. However, “particular facts or circumstances may necessitate an officer taking action other than the procedures listed above” (Policy 2-10-IV)).


The policy was issued shortly after the SCPD granted the request of the Connecticut Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Civil Rights to fly the Rainbow flag at a rally on the Capitol grounds.

Coalition leaders indicated that Connecticut was the first state to permit the Rainbow flag to be flown at its state capitol. Opponents argued that the flag should not be permitted on the state's most symbolic flagpole as it was the political statement of a vocal but small minority.

House Speaker Lyons allowed the flag to remain up and stated that the coalition had broken no law or policy. She suggested that a specific rule might avoid future disputes (Gorlick, “Lawmakers Want Gay Pride Flag Folded,” Associated Press (March 24, 1999)). The SCPD chief issued the administrative policy approximately one month later.


Between December 1999 and July 2010, the period for which SCPD records are available, the chief reports that his department received 62 special flag-flying requests. Table 1 shows the number, type, and disposition.

Table 1: Flag Flying Requests and Dispositions

Number of Requests




Flags of countries with diplomatic relations with the United States

All approved


Flags of the United States and Connecticut

All approved


Organizational Flag of the Army Flow



Organization Flag of the Marine Flow

Both approved


Gadsden Flag

All denied


Flag of the Society of Cincinnati (had been flying over the Capitol since 1968)

One granted, one denied

Source: Chief Walter Lee (July 7, 2010)


Rattlesnake flag
In the past six months, the SCPD has denied four requests to fly the Gadsden flag over the Capitol. The flag, which was used by the Marines in 1775, has been adopted by the Tea Party Patriots as their own.

It was reporte As reported in the media and confirmed by Chief Lee, the Gadsden flag is a historical American flag that ordinarily would be allowed to fly on the Capitol flagpole.

Nevertheless, the chief rescinded his initial permission to fly the flag when he learned that the flag-raising would occur in conjunction with a press conference and announcement of candidates the group was endorsing. The chief stated that his reason for withdrawing his permission was that the purpose of the flag raising was “much more when it was part of a political event” such as a rally to endorse political candidates. (Stannard, “Capitol Police Say Flag Won't Fly for the Tea Party,” New Haven Register, (April 9, 2010)).