Yellow military ribbons will remain on Litchfield green trees — for now

The debate over the yellow ribbons affixed to trees on the Litchfield town green will continue into 2022.

LITCHFIELD — The yellow ribbons honoring members of the military will remain on the town green for now.

In September, the borough’s Board of Warden and Burgesses voted to have the five ribbons that are affixed to trees on the Litchfield town green removed by Jan. 2.

But at the board’s meeting this week, members voted to rescind that motion, which supporters of the ribbons interpret as being given a temporary stay.

“The ribbons won’t be coming down Jan. 2, but they are definitely trying to figure out a way to get them down,” said Leslie Caron, who was involved in the original placement of the ribbons in 2003. “Until they can do that, the ribbons are there. We are going to keep fighting.”

The motion, which states that it would be the same for any ribbon of any color or meaning, does indicate the board’s desire to remove the ribbons from the trees.

“Those ribbons, as they exist, are in violation of the code and must be removed,” the motion states. “They should be removed regardless of what message they express. If the ribbons are allowed to remain as an expression of a particular viewpoint, the borough could not remove from one of its trees any other ribbon, placard, or poster that expresses a message or viewpoint. Our trees would be subject to becoming sites for the posting of expressive material of all kinds, and the borough has a substantial government interest in avoiding the defacing of its trees, impairing the aesthetics of the park, and also in keeping the parks free of foreign material attached to trees.”

Gayle Carr, the senior burgess, said the ribbons violate section 72 of the borough’s code.

The borough’s code states that “no person in a park shall ... paste, glue, tack or otherwise post any sign, placard, advertisement or inscription whatsoever, nor shall any person erect or cause to be erected any sign whatsoever on any public lands or highways or roads adjacent to a park.”

Carr said in November that because the ribbons carry meaning, they are interpreted by the board as a sign.

“The motion really speaks for itself. It says everything that needed to be said,” Carr said. “The only other thing I would say is the borough has a substantial governmental interest in maintaining and protecting and preserving the green. I’ve been advised by counsel to say nothing more than that.”

Carr declined to comment when asked if the ribbons are staying on the trees past the initial Jan. 2 deadline.

The motion continues, clarifying that it isn’t intended to limit speech on the green.

“This motion would not interfere with a citizens right to congregate in any of our parks and express any message they desire through the carrying of a sign, chanting, singing, marching, or even being still and silent,” the motion states.

The motion also states the board will “renew efforts to enforce the provisions of section 72 of the Code of the Borough of Litchfield solely through the passing of the current motion.”

The board plans to discuss the matter further at its Jan. 11 meeting, where Carr said legal counsel will be present to “explain what’s going on, why and will be available to answer questions from the public.”

Caron, whose son serves in the U.S. Air Force, said they initially placed the ribbons to honor active military members who were serving overseas and their families who were waiting for them at home.

“One of the burgesses made a motion to rescind the Sept. 14 vote which would allow the ribbons while they are figuring out the legality of enforcing the actual code in the codebook,” Caron said. “It’s in a holding pattern until they figure out a way to enforce their code. They don’t want to bend.”

The decision is the latest in a long saga involving the ribbons.

In 2003, Caron and a group of others placed around three dozen ribbons on trees on the green. Caron said the ribbons started disappearing in 2009. In 2010, a compromise was reached, and the group was allowed to keep five yellow ribbons on the trees.

All was fine, Caron said, until she and her husband returned from vacation this summer to see no ribbons on the trees. That was followed by the Sept. 14 vote to remove the ribbons permanently.

“Anything that may be up on the green, as far as signs ... they want to get rid of,” Caron said.

Caron said she was “thrilled” to see an outpouring of people supporting the yellow ribbons at the December meeting.

“It was thrilling to see that many people,” Caron said. “I think next time around there will be even more. The response on Facebook and letters to the editors have been wonderful. There was not one person who spoke the other night who was against the ribbons. People are very upset. It isn’t just us. They really spoke out and it was wonderful.”

The Jan. 11 meeting will be held in person and over Zoom, which Carr said should help address the overcrowding issues at the last meeting.

Connecticut Media Group