July 11, 2009

Pretty sure we’ll see this one before SCOTUS

The full story, - Published Saturday by the Associated Press, may be found at: ACLU considers lawsuit in small-town flag dispute

The history of improper use or destruction of the U.S. flag to protest perceived injustices, and the misbegotten deeds of the authorities in reaction to the offensive but completely legal action is long and checkered. Looks like we’ve opened another can of worms with this Wisconsin case.

WAUSAU, Wis. -- An American flag flown upside down as a protest in a northern Wisconsin village was seized by police before a Fourth of July parade and the businessman who flew it -- an Iraq war veteran -- claims the officers trespassed and stole his property.

As could be expected, the Wisconsin branch of the American Civil Liberties Union is pondering legal action against the little (population 1,000) berg of Crivitz for violating Vito Congine Jr.'s' First Amendment right of free expression. ACLU Executive Director Chris Ahmuty says, "It is not often that you see something this blatant."

This all started about a month ago when the 46-year-old Congine (pronounced kon-JEE-nee) hoisted his flag upside down outside the restaurant he wants to open in the village. An inverted flag is, by tradition, an accepted way to signal distress. Congine’s distress, so he claims, is the potential of bankruptcy due to the village board’s refusal to grant him a liquor license after he spent nearly $200,000 to buy and remodel a downtown building for an Italian supper club.

Others in the village did not take to his protest as he must have hoped, and just hours before the town’s Fourth of July parade, as neighbors watched, four police officers entered the property and removed the flag. One neighbor Steven Klein, could not believe what he was seeing. He asked them, "What are you doing?", but they told him "It is none of your business." The cops returned the flag the next day, and Congine promptly hoisted it upside down again.

Marinette County District Attorney Allen Brey, on whose advice the cops took the flag, declined comment. Marinette County Sheriff Jim Kanikula said it was not illegal to fly the flag upside down but people were upset and it was the Fourth of July. "It is illegal to cause a disruption," he said. Village President John Deschane, age 60 and an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, called Congine’s actions “disrespectful,” and said "If he wants to protest, let him protest but find a different way to do it.”

For his part, Congine, a Marine veteran of Desert Storm, intends to keep flying the flag upside down. "It is pretty bad when I go and fight a tyrannical government somewhere else," Congine said, "and then I come home to find it right here at my front door."

Poor taste and ignorance of tradition are not violations of law, but neither do they negate individual, constitutional rights. The village's action was wrong, and SCOTUS will likely see this case in the future.



Terrant said...

Going by their standards, they should have arrested anybody who wore a shirt with a flag on it. Somehow, I don't think that crossed their mind.

Rogue Medic said...

I guess they decided to make him somewhat more famous (free advertising for his alcohol-free restaurant) and reimburse him for the expenses to open the restaurant.

Has such a small town cancelled their insurance, due to budget cuts? If not this will probably result in a nice sized tax hike to pay for this one day of not having to look at an upside down flag.

Mule Breath said...

There have been a few cases disrespect/desecration cases before SCOTUS in the past, and the state has lost them all on 1A grounds. The one most memorable to me (because I was there) was the landmark Texas v. Johnson (1989). In the majority opinion, Justice Brennan stated the obvious truth. "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. . . ."

Some other notable cases with similar outcomes were U.S. v. O'Brien (1968) for burning a draft card, Schact v. U.S. (1970) for protesting the draft while wearing a military uniform, and Spence v. Washington (1974) for superimposing a peace symbol over a flag.

Tsk. Such disrespect...

Old NFO said...

Got a feeling they are going to be paying a BUNCH! Any bets on settling out of court?

heh- WV- jammd