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Globe Editorial

State House banners: Be fair, and beware

The Jane Doe Inc. banner hung on the State House this spring. The Jane Doe Inc. banner hung on the State House this spring. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
June 13, 2011

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Most banners that hang in front of the State House are clearly uncontroversial, offering support for Bruins, the Red Sox, or cultural institutions. A recent flap over a banner proposed by the Fatherhood Coalition, a group that wants to change state custody laws, reveals the difficulty of keeping these signs nonpolitical.

The group spotted a banner this spring from Jane Doe Inc., which works to stop violence against women. That banner included Jane Doe’s logo, the motto “Men for Change,’’ and an anti-violence message. The Fatherhood Coalition, following procedure, submitted a proposal to State House officials for a banner timed to Father’s Day. It would have read, “Men & Fathers for Our Children: Bringing the dads we need to the children we love.’’

The Joint Committee on Rules of the House and Senate rejected the banner, citing guidelines against banners that are political or advocate positions. The Fatherhood Coalition cried foul, saying its banner didn’t press a specific position. If its banner was implicit advocacy, then so was Jane Doe’s. “Either you have a policy for no one or everyone,’’ said Peter Hill, one of the group’s most vocal members.

He’s right about the need for a single policy. State House officials have been negotiating with Fatherhood Coalition, seeking compromise wording that might meet state guidelines. That’s only fair. But if similar dilemmas arise in the future, it may prove wiser to get the State House out of the banner business altogether.