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New York State bans swastikas, other hate symbols on public property

Bill introduced after Confederate flag displayed in several firehouses; use permitted in museums and for educational purposes

An undated photograph shows a Confederate battle flag on display at the Levittown Fire Department Station 3 in Bethpage, New York. (Office of State Senator Anna M. Kaplan via JTA)
An undated photograph shows a Confederate battle flag on display at the Levittown Fire Department Station 3 in Bethpage, New York. (Office of State Senator Anna M. Kaplan via JTA)

New York Jewish Week via JTA — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation Tuesday that bans the selling or displaying of hate symbols on public property and taxpayer-funded equipment.

State Sen. Anna M. Kaplan and Assemblymember Michaelle Solages, both of Long Island, introduced the legislation after an incident last year in which a Confederate flag was displayed on a fire truck in Long Island, and another in which a Confederate flag was hung from a fire department window.

The bill defines symbols of hate as including, but not limited to, symbols of white supremacy, neo-Nazi ideology or the Battle Flag of the Confederacy. Excluded are symbols that serve an “educational or historical purpose,” such as in a museum or book.

“Public property belongs to all of us, and this measure is critical to ensure that our public property isn’t being used to promote hatred,” said Kaplan in a press release. “You would think it was common sense that taxpayer-owned property couldn’t be used as a platform for hate, but shockingly there was no law on the books saying so — until now.”

Public property is defined as a school district, a fire district, volunteer fire company or police department and the taxpayer-funded equipment they use.

According to the NYC Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes, swastikas are among the most common hate symbols displayed in the United States today. The office has partnered with the Anti-Defamation League to provide resources on and histories of common hate symbols in the U.S.

The NYPD Hate Crimes dashboard has reported that nearly 35% of hate crimes this year have been antisemitic, the highest portion against any group. Antisemitic hate crimes in New York City have risen 50% compared to the same period in 2020.

“The recent and disgusting rise in racist, homophobic, and hateful behavior will never be tolerated in New York,” Hochul said in a press release. “There is no reason for a symbol of hate to ever be on display, let alone by a police or fire department charged with protecting their community.”

There is an existing New York State law banning hate symbols on state property. That law raised free speech issues in 2020 among civil libertarians, who noted that the expression of even hateful speech is protected under the Constitution even on state-owned land. However, the Supreme Court has in the past upheld laws limiting the rights of state and municipal employees to make political speeches on work time.

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