Pa. man charged with misdemeanor ‘desecration’ of American flag

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A central Pennsylvania man has been charged with desecrating and insulting the American flag — a misdemeanor charge that the ACLU says is clearly in violation of his First Amendment rights.

Police in Allegheny Township claim 37-year-old Joshua Brubaker painted the letters “AIM” on the American flag and flew it upside-down in front of his house, which is across the street from the police station.

Mr. Brubaker said the banner represents the American Indian Movement, a group that works to protect American Indians, as he and his wife are both of native descent.

Assistant Police Chief L.J. Berg told a local news station that he received complaints from residents about the flag, so he removed it and “seized it as evidence.”

“I was offended by it when I first saw it,” he told WJAC-TV. “I had an individual stop here at the station, a female who was in the military, and she was very offended by it … People have made too many sacrifices to protect the flag and to leave this happen in my community, I’m not happy with that.”

Mr. Brubaker was charged with misdemeanor desecration and insults to the American flag.

The relevant statutes in Pennsylvania, The Washington Post points out, state that a person is guilty of a misdemeanor if he or she exhibits or displays any marks, writing or design of any nature upon any flag, exposes to public view any such marked or defiled flag, or if he or she “maliciously takes down, defiles, injures, removes or in any manner damages, insults, or destroys any American flag or the flag of the Commonwealth which is displayed anywhere.”

Regardless, the American Civil Liberties Union argues that the man was merely engaged in “political expression,” which is clearly protected by the U.S. Constitution and confirmed as such by the Supreme Court in Texas v. Johnson (1989) and United States v. Eichman (1990).

The Post notes that the police who frivolously charged Mr. Brubaker would not have qualified immunity if he chose to sue.

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