A federal judge in Iowa ruled Wednesday two state laws that protect the American flag from desecration are unconstitutional. It’s a victory for the controversial Westboro Baptist Church in a court case filed on its behalf by the Iowa chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Iowa U.S. Senator Tom Harkin was asked if the flag needs more protections at the federal level. Harkin’s short answer is, “no.”
“There’s always been an effort here, as long as I’ve been here, to have some kind of constitutional amendment to prevent desecration of the flag,” Harkin says. “I remember the first time that came up when I was in the Senate was in the late ’80s. I was opposed to it then and I still remain opposed to some kind of constitutional amendment.”
Harkin, a Democrat, says he favors a different type of solution. “The best way to protect the American flag is to stand strong for our Constitution and our Bill of Rights,” Harkin says. “When we stand strong for our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, that does more to protect our flag than any constitutional amendment or any law or anything else that can be done.”
U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt said he based his decision on a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found burning the American flag during a protest is considered free speech. Protesters from the Kansas-based church held demonstrations at soldiers’ funerals last year in Council Bluffs and Red Oak. At the group’s protests, members reportedly stood on, spat on and dragged the Stars and Stripes. One of the Iowa laws that was declared unconstitutional specifies no one is to “trample on” or “mutilate” an American flag.