A federal judge ruled Wednesday that both of Iowa’s laws about flag desecration are "unenforceable." The American Civil Liberties Union has fought flag laws for years, and ACLU-Iowa director Ben Stone says one of these was 100 years old and made a lot of things illegal.
"A whole laundry list," Stone says. "I mean, it is hundreds of words long, detailing exactly what can and cannot be done with the American flag." He says the law banned use of the flag symbol in advertisements, on clothing, on coffee mugs — and even the magnetic ribbon stickers people put on their cars would be in violation of that law.
The judge ruled that while that law often was not enforced, at times it was used, selectively, against certain people. Stone says that "leaves it open for local police to use their own political beliefs to enforce these statutes. We’ve only seen these statutes enforced against people who were political dissenters." The cases that began the challenge were separate incidents in which people flew the American flag upside down.
The men, who didn’t know each other, were from separate counties in Iowa. Each protested government policies — an Ottumwa man showing his objections to the way police there enforced the local noise ordinance, and a man in rural Corydon who flew a flag upside-down who show solidarity with people protesting the way war veterans were treated in mental-health facilities. A federal judge in the southern district of Iowa ruled that only parts of the laws were enforced, in only a few of cases in which they’d apply, and so both laws were invalid and should not be used by prosecutors.