Flags and flagpoles: Church of England

On 9 June 2022, the Church Times reported Synod motion seeks to ban Pride flag on church buildings. This states that “a private member’s motion has been submitted to General Synod asking the Archbishops’ Council to prohibit through legislation the display of the Pride rainbow flag on church buildings, because ‘what [the flag] represents . . . is contrary to the word of God’.


There are a number of sites which proffer advice on the flying of flags in the Church of England:

In addition, issues relating to flag flying are considered in our posts:

A separate post on other flag-related issues is in preparation.

Details of the procedures related to the Church of England Private Members’ Motions are here. At the time of writing, the proposed PMM had not been listed on the Church of England website; until it is supported by at least 100 signatures, it will not be considered for debate by General Synod:

“Generally there is only space for one or two PMMs to be debated in each meeting of the General Synod (group of sessions). While the motion with the most signatures is often the one selected there can be reasons for selecting another that has also attracted considerable support (it might, for example, be more time-critical). Once a motion has been open for signature for three groups of sessions, if it has not attracted 100 signatures, it expires.”


Comment

Church Guidance

Reading the above advice, it is unsurprising that various urban myths have developed regarding the flying of flags, since there is a lack of consistency within the advice which is available. The CofE ChurchCare pages state [emphasis added]:

“Flying flags from churches in is controlled by law.

If flying the flag of St George within your church, the diocesan arms must be included in the top corner nearest to the mast, as defined by the 1938 warrant by the Earl Marshal. Other flags, such as the flag of the Union, any country’s national flag, the flag of the Commonwealth, together with Her Majesty’s forces flags, may be flown as long they are maintained in a condition that does not impair the overall visual appearance of the church, and they are kept in a safe condition.

Further information on the Government rules around flying flags.”

However, the Church’s guidance A Brief guide to Flags, Military Colours and Historic Banners comments:

“The Earl Marshal’s Warrant had the approval of the Archbishops of the day but it does not make it compulsory for the flag to be flown“…If the PCC owns any buildings apart from the church, the government’s guidance on flying flags will be relevant”.

Furthermore, the advice from the Flag Institute observes:

“There is no Flag Act in the UK (unlike most other countries) and therefore, contrary to popular myth, there is no legal restriction on the flags that may be flown from a church“,

although it notes that “there are certain legal and ceremonial restrictions placed upon some flags, (Royal Standards (British or Foreign) and the White Ensign). It further states:

“In general, any appropriate flag may be flown, subject to diocesan guidance, and the wishes of the incumbent and PCC. Present practice is based on two factors: [the Earl Marshal’s warrant] and [‘the historic tradition of churches flying a plain St George’s Cross’]”.

Government Guidance

The government’s guidance on flying flags, cited in the CofE Guidance, is based upon the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) regulations 2007 (as amended in 2012 and in 2021), for which the advertisement regime identifies 3 categories of advertisement consent:

  • Those permitted without requiring either deemed or express consent from the local planning authority;
  • Those which have deemed consent;
  • Those which require the express consent of the local planning authority.

For these buildings, “the Rainbow flag (six horizontal equal stripes of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet)”, which the Guidance does not referred to as the “the Pride Flag”, falls into the category in which “[a] number of categories of flag may be flown without consent, subject to certain restrictions regarding the size of the flag, the size of characters on the flag, and the number and location of the flags”.

Faculty jurisdiction

With regard to the Faculty Jurisdiction (Amendment) Rules 2019

“The repair, maintenance, removal, disposal or replacement of a flagpole falls within list A [providing ‘Only non-corroding fixings are used where a flagpole is repaired or replaced’]”;

Also List A includes:

“(i) flags and banners used for temporary displays (but not the laying up of flags, or the removal or disposal of flags that have been laid up); and (j) the Union flag or St George’s flag (with or without the diocesan arms in the first quarter) for flying from the church), [providing that ‘[n]o article being introduced is fixed to historic fabric’]'”.

Also,  for changes within the churchyard, List A also includes:

“(9) The introduction, replacement or disposal of a flagpole not attached to the church building, [providing that ‘[t]he local planning authority is notified of the proposal’ and ‘[a]ny new disturbance below ground level is kept to a minimum’]”.

In conclusion, perhaps there was some logic in John Betjeman insisting that were was a weather vane rather than a flagpole at his church, SS Peter and Paul, Wantage.

 


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Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Flags and flagpoles: Church of England" in Law & Religion UK, 10 June 2022, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2022/06/10/flags-and-flagpoles-church-of-england/

6 thoughts on “Flags and flagpoles: Church of England

    • I seem to remember that a theatre company drew complaints a few years ago for flying a Jolly Roger in Edinburgh. They were performing in the Church of Scotland General Assembly Hall, which is part of New College at the University of Edinburgh, and flew the flag from the very prominent flagpole which can be seen from Princes Street

  1. The wording of the List A permission seems to be ambiguously worded. Could flying a flag for (say) a day be counted as a ‘temporary display’ in which case no permission would be needed? If the flag is not owned by the church, has it been ‘introduced’?

    If the answer to the first question is no or the second is yes, this would suggest that if someone who has a personal flag (i.e. anyone with a grant of arms), a full faculty would be needed to fly that flag. This would seemingly include any flag of a royal visitor to a church.

    • Thanks for your question Rob. The wording in the Church’s Brief Guide does seem ambiguous, but your archdeacon would be a better arbiter to both questions with regard to you church.

      There is also another ambiguity: whilst the CofE Flags and military colours guidance – Do you need permission? states “You don’t need a faculty to introduce, remove or dispose of a flag flying from your church”, the Brief Guide adds the important fine print “The laying up of flags and the removal of flags that have been laid up does require faculty, as does removal or disposal of flags or banners of historic or artistic interest“.

      • Thanks for this David – I was more posing the question as an intellectual exercise rather than having a practical problem, and also trying to make the point that anyone attempting to enforce rules about flag flying may find themselves in bother – either because the rules are too ambiguous or because in trying to stop one thing, they unintentionally stop something else.

        • Thanks for the clarification Rob. I had assumed that your the question was posed as an intellectual exercise rather than having a practical problem, but as with my standard preface to media questions – “this is off the record”, I did not wish my answer to be taken out of context by someone else. dp

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