Sheriff Joe, ask a constitutional lawyer — defacing flag not illegal

Jan 24, 2014, 4:49 PM | Updated: Nov 7, 2022, 4:33 pm

You do realize he’s doing this on purpose.

In the latest “look at me” move by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, 38 inmates were placed on bread and water for defacing the American flag. This wasn’t the flag flying over the jail or the one hanging in the sheriff’s office, rather the American flag placed in each and every jail cell.

That’s right: the sheriff baited prisoners by purposely putting a flag in their cells to see who, in a fit of rage, defiance or stupidity would lash out at it so he could find additional ways to punish them.

And before we go further, I think it’s time for a civics refresher course.

The Supreme Court of the United States in in Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989), and reaffirmed in U.S. v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310 (1990), has ruled that due to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, it is unconstitutional for a government (whether federal, state, or municipality) to prohibit the desecration of a flag because of its status as “symbolic speech.”

That’s right, it is NOT against the law to desecrate the flag, regardless of how angry or uncomfortable it makes us feel.

Sadly, there are plenty of people in Arizona and across the country who will applaud these juvenile actions, mostly out of ignorance and egg the sheriff on to make more showboating policies and rules that guarantee him more time in the spotlight.

They are criminals, I get it. They are being punished with jail time. I get it. But we live in a country with basic freedoms and liberties that no judge, jury or sheriff can take away. I for one am PROUD that we are not forced to worship any symbols of our great nation.

I also realize the irony is totally lost on some of this policy’s most vocal supporters. The people who cheer for the sheriff to throw these prisoners “in the hole” for desecrating the flag appear to be many of the same people who were outraged at the suspension of a reality TV show “star,” citing the First Amendment and “freedom” in their arguments.

I, for one, am not prepared to live in a country where freedom of thought or expression is limited by the whims of an attention-seeking public official.

Bruce St James

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Sheriff Joe, ask a constitutional lawyer — defacing flag not illegal