Kingsport homeowner defends profanity-laced flags, First Amendment rights

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KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- An owner of a Kingsport house that has drawn criticism for being draped in multiple flags containing profanity is responding to the pushback he’s received from some in the community.

The flags hung up at Michael Wyatt’s house near downtown Kingsport have provoked some citizens to contact the city with complaints. City officials told News Channel 11 this caused the city attorney to analyze Kingsport’s Code of Ordinances.

(IMAGE: Wyatt’s house has multiple flags hung on it)

“In an effort to be responsive to citizens’ concerns, the office of the city attorney and other staff analyzed applicable law, including our City Code of Ordinances,” a Kingsport spokesperson said in a statement to News Channel 11.

Wyatt’s flags also inspired Connie Grandelli, another Kingsport resident, to make her own profane sign and place it outside her home.

(IMAGE: Grandelli put up signs spelling out a swear word at her own home last week)

Last week, Grandelli told News Channel 11 her temporary display was meant to spotlight Kingsport’s need to step in and remove the flags with swear words. She made flyers for her neighbors, urging them to contact city offices about the matter.

“It just is overwhelming to me to think that this is really that big of a deal for people,” Wyatt told News Channel 11.

Wyatt believes it’s his politics – and not the profanity – that’s causing the reaction.

“At the end of the day, I don’t really see it as anything more than just a First Amendment issue,” he said.

During the 2020 election, Wyatt said he had flags up that expressed his support for former President Donald Trump that didn’t have profanity. Then he said he got a hateful note from a neighbor.

“Instead of being violent or verbal, attacking him in any kind of way, I just did my own response. And instead of taking my flags down, I decided I would go ahead and buy a few new ones,” he said.

He said this led to him hanging up multiple flags cursing President Joe Biden. Wyatt said he’d had the flags with profanity hung up for at least two months.

“Unless you could show me that those same people that are so outraged by my ‘F Biden’ sign were showing that same outrage over all the ‘F Trump’ stuff. Now if you could prove that to me, then okay, I will buy it, it’s just the language,” he said.

Wyatt continued, “But are you going to really to tell me that the F-word in 2021 is our biggest issue right here, with what we’re talking about? I mean, come on. ‘WAP’ is the number one song in America.”

The City of Kingsport has said due to the First Amendment they cannot do anything about the flags on private property.

“These materials do not satisfy the legal definition of obscenity or speech inherently likely to result in a violent reaction. Moreover, no time, place and manner restrictions exist to address the concerns raised by citizens,” the city spokesperson wrote.

Stewart Harris, a constitutional law professor at Lincoln Memorial University affirms this, saying despite the profanity, the flags are still protected speech.

“In this country, people are allowed to express themselves with regard to government and politics. And that’s one of the things that makes this country great. And the price we pay is that we have to see some of these objectionable things from time to time,” Harris said.

Wyatt said he now has plans to take down the flags with profanity. He said he’s ordered new flags that are still political, but don’t have swear words.

“I would have taken it all down by now, had it not been for the fact that people want to attack me for being able to express myself,” he said.

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