FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 21, 2012
Contact: Debbie Read, (314) 652-3114; email@example.com
CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO. — The federal district court in Cape Girardeau late yesterday declared that Missouri’s statute prohibiting flag desecration is unconstitutional and permanently enjoined the state from enforcing the law. The decision came in a case brought by the ACLU of Eastern Missouri on behalf of Frank Snider, who was arrested and held in jail for eight hours on a charge of violating the statute.
Snider had expressed his disagreement with the government by attempting to burn a United States Flag on the sidewalk in front of his Cape Girardeau home. A neighbor called the police to complain, and Snider was arrested for desecrating the flag.
The ACLU of Eastern Missouri noted that more than 20 years ago the Supreme Court of the United States unequivocally held that expressive use of the flag is protected under the First Amendment. Nevertheless, Missouri has never repealed its flag desecration statute. Yesterday’s decision cited several recent instances of the statute’s enforcement.
“The threat of arrest is sufficient to coerce self-censorship from speakers who would otherwise use the flag to express their message,” said Brenda Jones, Executive Director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. “This statute should have been repealed long ago.”
The court held that the statute is facially invalid because it prohibits a substantial amount of protected speech. According to the ruling, “A law directed at the communicative nature of conduct must, like a law directed at speech itself, be justified by the substantial showing of need that the First Amendment requires. … Here the State does not, and likely could not, articulate an interest that would justify restricting expression.”
“Every law enforcement official should know expressive conduct involving the Flag is entitled to the protection of the First Amendment,” said Anthony E. Rothert, Legal Director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri and one of Snider’s attorneys in the case. “This decision forecloses any further enforcement of the statute in Missouri.”
A copy of the decision can be found at: http://www.aclu-em.org/legal/legaldocket/currentcases/snidervcityofcapegirardeau.htm