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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A reality television star contends in a court filing that a North Carolina city's size ban on a huge America flag flying at his recreational vehicle store is unconstitutional.
Attorneys for Marcus Lemonis said in a filing in Iredell County that the U.S. and North Carolina constitutions protect the right to fly an American flag of any size — in this case, the one at Gander RV in Statesville — provided it's not a safety hazard.
The U.S. and North Carolina constitutions and state law prohibit authorities "from placing arbitrary or unreasonable restrictions on city's abilities to fly the flag," the filing reads.
Lemonis is the chief executive officer of Camping World, which owns Gander, and star of CNBC's reality television show "The Profit." He declared last week that he would go to jail before he takes down the flag.
Officials from the city about 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of Charlotte sued the company in May over the flag, which measures 40 feet by 80 feet (12 meters by 24 meters) and hangs on a 130-foot-high (40-meter-high) flagpole next to Interstate 77. The code limits flags to 25 feet by 40 feet (7.6 meters by 12 meters).
Lemonis filed the response Tuesday even though Statesville's mayor said last week that he had asked the city's planning department to change the dimensions allowed for flags displayed in a highway business zone. The City Council would vote on the change in July and, if approved, Gander RV's flag could keep flying.
But Lemonis said he wants no restrictions on the size of U.S. flags that aren't a safety hazard. Employees cheered when he visited Gander RV in Statesville on May 30 and told them: "The flag is not coming down under any circumstance."
As "The Profit" on TV, Lemonis invests in failing businesses and tries to turn them around. Regardless of the amount of his investment, he always tells the owners that he's "100 percent in charge."
The filing says the flag "represents the fundamental values — freedom, courage and equality before the law — that unite all Americans and transcend party politics. ... In keeping with this tradition, The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized that the act of flying the flag is a form a political expression protected by the First Amendment."
The filing also points to a North Carolina state law that says reasonable restrictions on the size of official governmental flags are allowed if necessary to protect public health, safety and welfare. Statesville's restriction on flag size "serves no legitimate safety purpose," the filing said.
A spokeswoman said the city had no response to the filing.
Follow Martha Waggoner on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc
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