Whenever folks in Penfield, New York get a hankering for pancakes for lunch – they head over to the 5 Mile Café.
The family-owned restaurant is known in those parts for serving breakfast any time of the day (order their homemade corned beef hash).
They are also known for their patriotism.
“We are very patriotic here at the café – all year round –not just this time of year,” owner Jennifer Aquino told me. “We have American flags and patriotic things around the café.”
So Jennifer decided to ask the town for a permit so she could post a “God Bless America” banner on the front of her restaurant. She wanted to display the banner from Memorial Day through Independence Day.
There was just one significant problem.
Penfield has a strict banner allotment policy. Businesses are only allowed to post banners for a total of three weeks out of the year. And Jennifer had used up her allotment.
“At one point we had banners all over the town and the town just looked trashy and our residents said enough’s enough,” town supervisor Tony LaFountain told WHEC.
Jennifer’s request was denied.
Instead of posting the banner outside the restaurant, she posted it inside. And that was that – until the Orlando terrorist attack.
“I decided on my way to work that I was going to put it up regardless of the town telling me I couldn’t,” she said. “So I put it up.”
A bit later that day she received an email from the town telling her to remove the banner. They warned her that she could face a possible fine for violating the ordinance.
“I didn’t take it down,” Jennifer told me. “And I was willing to pay the fine.”
“The [message on the banner] means a lot to me – especially during this time in our country with all that’s going on with terrorism,” she said. “I just can’t believe that I can’t have this banner up and be supported by the town board.”
You would think most folks would appreciate the sentiment behind “God Bless America.” Lord knows we need it.
But rules are rules and the town board does not seem interested in accommodating Jennifer’s patriotic banner.
“The fact that I’m being asked to take it down is wrong,” she said. “It’s against my First Amendment rights. People need to open up their eyes. If we start letting them tell us we can’t do this – it’s going to get worse.”
Lots of folks seem to agree with Jennifer’s sentiment. Hundreds and hundreds of supporters have posted messages on the café’s Facebook page and several customers have dropped off money – to help pay for any fines.
Jennifer tells me she never imagined there would be a day like this in America.
“I have lots of veterans in my family,” she said. “I have a cousin who fought in Desert Storm so that we could have the freedom to hang a banner that says, ‘God bless America.’”
And yet we live in a nation where you can be punished for simply being patriotic.