The ACLU’s Randall Wilson says the judge found that members of the Westboro Baptist Church were using the flag in an expression of free speech.
“We’ve been litigating flag desecration cases in Iowa since the Vietnam War protest days. It has almost always been used in Iowa, well it has always been used in Iowa, against people who have been involved in legitimate protests of national policies and local conditions,” Wilson says.
Wilson says the Westboro case pretty much makes the Iowa law unenforceable. “The legislature after our last go around slightly amended the statures, but did not cure the defects,” Wilson says, “they still related to speech. And this time judge Pratt decided that there was no longer any room for argument on this point.”
The members of the Westboro Baptist Church used their flags in protest at military funerals, and Wilson says the ACLU took the case not in support of the group, but in support of their right to speak. “There is no more avid flag wavers I think than veterans or the ACLU membership. Really, we all love this country and the principles that it stands for. But the flag cannot be turned on its head and become an end to itself. What’s more important are the principles that the flag stands for,” according to Wilson.
He says those are the principles they defended in the lawsuit. “If the flag no longer stands for patriotism as a matter of free will, if it no longer stands for the right to speak out and correct your government, than the flag really loses its essential meaning to many of us,” Wilson says.
Wilson says the flag desecration ruling does not mean those who don’t like what the members of the Westboro Baptist Church do with flag should keep silent. He says they still have the right to speak out too. “The best way to deal with speech you don’t like is to speak out against it,” Wilson says. “It’s a marketplace of ideas out there. And the theory of democracy is that the best ideas rise to the surface.”
The lawsuit was filed last year on behalf of the members of the church in Topeka, Kansas, after they say law officers told them they couldn’t drag, step on or wear the U.S. flag during their protests. The group had protested in Red Oak and Council Bluffs.