Watch an earlier NBC4 report from May 18, 2022, about Thomas DiSario’s refusal to remove his ‘thin blue line’ flag
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Ohio lawmakers have revived legislation to allow a Pataskala man to fly his “thin blue line” flag scot-free.
For nearly six years, Thomas DiSario has proudly flown the striped flag at his Pataskala home in honor of his late son, former Kirkersville police chief Steven DiSario, who was shot and killed in May 2017 while responding to a 911 call at a nursing home.
When DiSario’s homeowner’s association ordered him to take the flag down, citing its violation of deed restrictions, state lawmakers took to the pulpit to protect Ohioans’ display of the flag that’s viewed by many, including DiSario, as a tribute to first responders.
“The men and women who go out there everyday, this is just one small way we can show our support to them,” Rep. Kevin Miller (R-Newark) said.
In early March, Miller reintroduced a bill that would add the thin blue line flag – also referred to as the “back the blue” flag – to the list of symbols that landlords, mobile park home operators and homeowners associations cannot restrict.
Current law shields the U.S. and Ohio flags, those honoring prisoners of war and people missing in action from prohibitions by property managers. Service flags “displayed in a window of the residence of a member of the immediate family of an individual serving in the U.S. armed forces” are also protected.
In May 2022, the Omni Community Association Managers ordered DiSario to remove his thin blue line flag, deeming it a political symbol that is barred from being displayed under the neighborhood’s deed restrictions.
The flag for some is a sign of support for law enforcement, but in recent years, others have begun to view it as a symbol of white supremacy or support for the Blue Lives Matter movement. In January 2021, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s police chief banned officers from displaying the symbol while on duty, citing the “fear and mistrust” it invokes for some community members.
Along with Miller’s introduction of House Bill 100, or the Chief Steven DiSario Act, the association’s ban on DiSario’s flag prompted the National Police Academy to file a First Amendment lawsuit against the association in December.
“It represents my son and nothing else,” DiSario told NBC4 in May. “So I don’t know why everybody is now harassing me that I have to take it down.”
But David Dye, president of the homeowner’s association, told DiSario’s attorneys in a letter that the issue surrounding his display of the thin blue line flag “has nothing to do with any disrespect for his son’s sacrifice, nor disregard for his loss.”
The neighborhood deed restrictions, which Dye said the association is required to enforce, restrict all political speech, regardless of its messaging or ideology. Unless state law is changed, Dye said the association must enforce its deed restrictions.
“Your client voluntarily elected to purchase property in a deed restricted community, the restrictions for which limit owners’ right to communicate opinions through public displays,” Dye wrote in July 2022. “As such, your client has agreed to limit his right of expression, in a sense as a fair exchange for his neighbors’ agreement to limit their right to express themselves, in manners that may be objectionable to him.”
Miller, however, said he “100%” disagrees with the decision to define the thin blue line flag as a political statement.
“A flag that supports our law enforcement men and women who sacrificed in some cases their lives, like chief DiSario, that is not a political statement,” Miller said. “That is showing support for those who protect and serve us every day.”
An earlier iteration of Miller’s bill passed 90-2 in the House in November 2017 but never received a vote in the Senate. Miller said he hopes House Bill 100 – which has bipartisan support – will pass with flying colors by the end of this year’s General Assembly.
DiSario is expected to testify in support of House Bill 100 on Tuesday.