West Tisbury pauses on pro-life flag request

The select board is waiting on an opinion from town counsel before acting. 

West Tisbury town hall. —Eunki Seonwoo

Updated Dec. 1

The West Tisbury Select Board unanimously voted to refer a request to fly a pro-life flag to town counsel during a Wednesday, Nov. 29, meeting before taking any action. 

The request came from Pro-Life Legal Defense Fund director Robert W. Joyce. He wants the town to raise a four-foot by eight-foot flag, reading “pro-life, pro-mother, pro-father, and pro-child,” within the outermost circle. 

Among several questions, Joyce asked whether a flagpole was available on public property in the town for the raising.

Joyce also stated in the letter that the pursuit was supported by a New Hampshire organization called Camp Constitution, which won an infamous court case against the city of Boston in 2022. 

Boston denied a request to raise a “Christian flag” on a flagpole outside the city hall, but the U.S. Supreme Court, in Shurtleff v. City of Boston, overruled the decision in the Camp’s favor, forcing the city to allow the flag to be flown. Boston initially denied the request under the ground that flags raised on the pole constituted “government speech,” but the justices deemed this wasn’t the case, based on the history of the city’s flag-raising program. The court judged the denial a violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. 

Boston City Council later passed an ordinance that made flag-raising requests not a matter of free expression but of official government, city-endorsed expression, which has allowed them to veto controversial requests.

According to town administrator Jennifer Rand, West Tisbury does not have a flag policy. 

“We talked about needing one a couple of years ago,” board member Skipper Manter said, adding that issues about flags will likely resurface in the future. 

There are Island towns with flag policies. Oak Bluffs allows the approval of ceremonial flags for up to 14 days, while Chilmark allows only federal, state, and town flags on its flagpoles. 

Rand suggested sending a letter to town counsel for an opinion. The board agreed with the recommendation. 

Further discussion would take place after receiving an opinion, which Manter said will be an “interesting conversation.” 

“Do they know they’re in Massachusetts?” West Tisbury finance committee member Kimberly Angell commented. 

A poll conducted in 2022 by Suffolk University and the Boston Globe found that 78 percent of Massachusetts respondents said abortion should be legal in all or most cases. The Island also has many vocal pro-choice advocates who have hosted rallies against restricting abortion access

The primary place that provides sexual and reproductive healthcare on-Island is Health Imperatives Martha’s Vineyard; officials there expressed opposition to the flag proposal. 

“Health Imperatives enthusiastically supports governmental entities flying flags that affirm the rights of all; and we strongly oppose the raising of any flag that represents a movement to remove or restrict anyone’s fundamental rights,” Health Imperatives president and CEO Julia Kehoe told The Times in an email.

West Tisbury isn’t the only municipality that is receiving a request to fly the pro-life flag. Joyce told The Times on Thursday that the fund is reaching out to every city and town in Massachusetts with the request.

“It’s going to depend on whether or not the cities and or towns have a flagpole which is intended or used for a forum of free public expression,” he said, adding that the letters were an attempt to assess the flagpole status and positions of each municipality. 

Abortion issues have garnered increased attention since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, and Joyce said his group hopes raising the flag will bring an opportunity for dialogue, such as on the science and morality surrounding abortions. “We’re trying to facilitate rational communication between people with differing opinions,” he said, adding that the hope was to develop public policy for a more “cohesive community,” that was closer to the “principles of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence,” through the conversations between “believers and nonbelievers.” 

When asked whether the flag could be inflammatory, Joyce said he did not think so since the group was trying to promote “rational dialogue” about the rights of “unborn members of the human family.” But, Joyce said, the group also needed to grab people’s attention.

Updated with a comment from Health Imperatives president and CEO Julia Kehoe.


  1. If they want to approve a “pro-life” flag, there will be a group requesting a “pro-choice” flag. Where does it end?

    • It never ends, and that’s the problem. The people from the Temple of Satan that sued Boston won’t be far behind this group. Each island town had the opportunity last year to keep politics off the flagpoles, and they caved to pressure for fear of being labeled intolerant. Having done that, what right do they now have to turn away an organization just because their viewpoint is unpopular? Why would a town government wish to make those with opposing or unpopular minority views feel unwelcome and less valued? The only fair answer is to keep all messaging off of our flagpoles.

    • Our end goal should be Medicare for All. Remember when politicians ran on that promise? We voted them in and Bernie and the Squad dropped M4A like a hot potato and never mentioned it again. At least someone is trying to help pregnant women, flag or not.

    • Now that’s an idea we should all be able to get behind, for one reason for another.

      Making such a flag that’s sufficiently expressive, without being too graphic, should keep the artists in stitches for months at least. The pro-choice lobby should have no trouble seeing that condoms are cheaper than abortions. The pro-life lobby shouldn’t have issue with a life that was never created. Everyone wins except the people who aren’t getting laid anyway.

  2. I’m against this one.
    When O.B was debating the pride flag
    last year, many people said it would
    open the floodgates for all sorts
    of things.
    I was mildly opposed to that, not because
    I don’t support the LGBTQ community, but
    because I felt some group that is
    “pro life” or pro choice would want to have
    their flag proudly flying over town property.
    Clearly, If the town grants this request, they would
    be obligated to fly a pro choice flag. What would that
    accomplish ?
    Abortion is a very controversial issue.
    It is not within the purview of the town administrators
    to publicly and intentionally create divisiveness
    in our town.
    If someone wants to fly their flag, they can do it
    on private property.

  3. The time for a flag policy in West Tisbury was yesterday. Without getting into the details of this issue, just don’t let this flag fly over West Tisbury.

  4. I really don’t think a discussion is even necessary, we don’t need to inflame the situation. Even further, women’s rights come first on this island, and this is a slap in the face.

      • Let me explain: women are living, breathing human beings.
        Fetus are not viable until 24 weeks.
        See the difference?

        • Then you’d have no problem with a full ban after viability?

          Realistically, most fetuses can probably feel the pain and fear of being killed at 12 weeks, and certainly they all can by 18 weeks. Its terror is beneath human empathy or even basic recognition, you say, because it’s still dependent on its mother to breathe for it?

          • Yes ban with exceptions for health of the mother.
            But, please explain – “realistically” and “certainly” can feel pain – could you provide the link for the well- performed legitimate medical studies that provide this information?
            That would help with your argument, here.

        • Thanks for mansplaining when life begins. But I’m confused, what about preemies who were born at less than 24 weeks? Are they the actual walking dead?

          • Babies born after only 20 to 22 weeks are so small and fragile that they usually do not survive. Their lungs, heart and brain are not ready for them to live outside the womb. Some babies born later than 22 weeks also have only a very small chance of surviving.
            Weeks of fighting to breath just to die. Can a “baby” feel pain 24 weeks?

  5. Ther door has already been opened!! “Rational Dialogue”, not a chance!!
    Personally I also say, If someone wants to fly their flag, they can do it
    on private property.

    • Is it OK to the fly the flag on a private vehicle that is on public property?
      I am thinking about those cool pickup trucks adorned with pimped out American flags and flags indicating a preference that our next President be our previous President.

  6. Nice to see the usual crowd show up and try to silence someone with a different opinion than them. Even a public official could not help themself but jump in with their opinion. Yes, a flag policy needs to be done and it would be nice if we could accept different thinking and not be combative.

    • Dear Mr. Murphy: I’m fine with “different opinions,” but “pro-life” is a euphemism for “women aren’t entitled to choose what happens with our bodies.” That’s a bit more important than, say, having different opinions about political candidates or TV shows. Maybe as a man you don’t get that, but as a woman, I do.

  7. There are many other ways to offer discussion of controversial issues, flying a none governmental flag outside of a municipality is not the way.

  8. Fly it in your own yard if you feel the need to shove your personal opinion in your neighbors’ faces. Maybe on the same pole as your anti- womens’ health flag. I’m ironing my say-no-to-semi-automatic-death-tools flag as we speak.

  9. Stupid idea that serves only to divide at a dangerous time when it is essential that we come together as a country.

    • Maybe the request was to get publicity so pregnant women can see their options. No reason for anger. You may be pro abortion, some people are pro life. Making options clearly available is being pro choice. Look, they got us discussing women’s rights and their access to healthcare.

      • Kay– I’m a little unsure as to what you
        are trying to say with this comment.
        The only people who are subject to various
        “gag orders” are clinics that are prohibited
        to inform women that abortion is an option,
        and forbidden to refer anyone to an abortion
        clinic. I don’t get how an organization wanting
        to fly a pro life flag would help pregnant to
        see their options.
        I’m not being critical of your comment,
        Just asking for clarification.

  10. Whose position on this issue will be changed by flags flying over town halls? Mr. Joyce, this is a naked plea for attention — to what end? I don’t, and I doubt anyone else does, form my political opinions from flags or bumper stickers.
    But I do think it is a bad idea , to seemingly identify town with “pro-life” stance. Unless, of course “pro-life” means feeding the children, giving them housing, education etc.

    • I would imagine the town would be most concerned with the ensuing lawsuits if they endorsed free speech for one point of view and not all the others.

  11. This cries out for a Paul Karasik cartoon, with a flagpole flying hundreds of flags, each in opposition to the others. Perhaps the town flagpole is not the place for all these opposing views?

  12. This request is not an appropriate use of town property. It does not behoove the Town to indulge every flag request from every private person, organization, business, political party or religious group which may or may not reflect the attitudes or opinions of the Town Residents.

    • Should the Town allow the POW/MIA flag to fly?

      How about flying flags that reflect the majority of the attitudes or opinions of the Town Residents?

      • So if the majority of the town residents decided that it wanted to fly a flag in support of klu klux klan it should be flown because the majority says so? Mob rule is very rarely on the right side of history. I think we call them sheep. But to name a few Hess, think in terms of antisemitism, slavery and ochlocracy. Soon you can add Covid hysteria but will anxiously await another clown comment. Try and keep up.

  13. I agree with Mr. Rottman. American Flag first. Then and only then state flag and maybe POW/MIA. Otherwise it will never end.

  14. Yes, Hess any municipality should be able to fly the flag of a bonafide recognized US government agency within its jurisdiction. An example being West Tisbury flying their flag next to Dukes County next to the MA flag but slightly above those would be Old Glory. Exceptions could be made in support of other US local and state governments by flying those flags but never above the Stars and Stripes. An example could be West Tisbury flying the flag of the state of a RESPECTED sitting governor of another state you suddenly died in office. Try and keep up.

  15. “Pro-life” is a euphemism. Virtually all of us are in favor of life. If these people framed their position as “anti-women’s-right-to-choose,” I think the issue would be clearer. I don’t want to see an anti-women flag flying at town hall.

    • You were very vocal in your support of flying the pride flag in public spaces last year. How do you reconcile these two positions? I’m not asking you to explain or support either of your positions on either matter, I’m asking why you feel that your opinions and positions are the only objectively correct ones, and why they should matter more than someone else’s.

      I am of the opinion that none of these awareness & cause flags should be flown on town property regardless of the cause. Perhaps you can change my mind.

  16. I heartily endorse the flying of a ‘pro-life’ flag — pro the life and freedom of all women to exercise, should they choose to do so, their natural human right against forced-birth on pain of criminal sanction of the state acting on behalf of the Medieval-channeling values of Christian theocratic extremists.

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