A federal judge in Iowa ruled on Wednesday that two state statutes which made it illegal to desecrate the American flag or use it to incite violence are unconstitutional. But state Rep. Bobby Kaufmann is determined to keep any of that from happening. Kaufmann isn't sure yet how to stop the protesters and demonstrators but said "if there is a way, I will find it.”
“I value our First Amendment rights, but just like you cannot shout ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater, you should never ever, be allowed to spit and stomp on our flag while protesting the funeral of someone who died fighting for our freedoms,” Kaufmann, a republican, said in an email to his constituents Thursday, Cedar Rapids Gazette reported.
The issue first arose when a federal judge in Des Moines, Iowa ruled back in 2007 that Westboro Baptist Church protesters were exercising their constitutional free expression rights while wearing, spitting on and stepping on flags during demonstrations at funeral services being held for two soldiers in Red Oak and Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Mark Natale, center, continues to talk to Rachel Hockenbarger, right, as she and other members of Westboro Baptist Church protest near Woodrow Wilson High School on Monday June 09, 2014 in Washington, DC. The high school's principal, Pete Cahall recently told his school's students that he is gay. The Washington Post/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Following that ruling, the Iowa state legislature convened to amend certain elements of the state's free expression laws. But even after the legislature made those changes the law still left room for freedom of expression rights to be violated, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. So the ACLU filed a lawsuit last year in opposition to Iowa's free expression laws.
“Really, when you think about it, we don’t want to live in a society where patriotism is a compelled act. Reverence for the flag should be heartfelt and voluntary," Randall Wilson, interim executive director of ACLU's Iowa chapter, said.
"The rights of the least of us define the rights of the rest of us. There's something that we and the Westboro Baptist Church do agree on and that is the importance of being able to express your ideas and what you believe in in America," Wilson said.
Federal Judge Robert Pratt agreed: "Conduct involving the American flag has long been recognized by the United States Supreme Court as expressive communication that falls within the protection of the First Amendment. Here, (church members mishandle) the flag during protests and demonstrations in order to express the message that the flag has become an idolatrous symbol...Such use of the flag is plainly expressive conduct that is protected by the First Amendment," Pratt concluded.
Pratt cited the 1989 Supreme Court case which found that burning an American flag is "free speech." The landmark decision came after protester Gregory Lee Johnson set a flag on fire outside the Republican National Convention in Dallas. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Westboro Baptist Church in 2011 after a number of its members protested American policies at the funeral of the fallen Marine Matthew Snyder.
"Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and – as it did here – inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker," Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said.
Despite the years-long controversy, Kaufmann vowed on Thursday to fight "with a fiery passion" to protect the flag from being desecrated.
(H/T: Cedar Rapids Gazette)
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