Iberville Parish Council passes flag desecration ordinance against ACLU recommendation

TOMMY COMEAUX tcomeaux@postsouth.com

In a room half filled with U.S. military veterans, the Iberville Parish Council quietly and without debate passed what it calls an "ordinance to prohibit flag desecration of (the) American Flag, Louisiana Flag and Iberville Parish Flag."

Council members unanimously approved the ordinance with no discussion. There was also no opposition voiced in a public hearing prior to the council meeting the matter would be decided.

Before the vote, Council Chairman Matthew Jewell spoke in favor of the ordinance. 

"The American flag represents a way of life that many would not have if it weren't for the men who died for it," he said. "...Seeing a flag going up in flames is unsettling to me."

"I'm not against the First Amendment," Jewell continued. "...I just think there are other ways to demonstrate that." 

Veterans in the audience were given the opportunity to voice their opinion before the council voted.

"I encourage you to protect our flag so that we never show disrespect to those who lost their lives fighting for us," said James "Fry" Hymel. "...If we can't respect ur nation's symbol, then what can we respect?"

Iraqi war veteran Randall Hyatt said people burning the American flag are trying to offend and mock the United States.

"Freedom of speech and the First Amendment is a legal protect, not a license to act ignorant to draw perverse fame," he said. "The flag is dear to me. Soldiers died wearing it."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), though, said in a letter the Iberville Parish ordinance "would violate the Constitutional rights of the people of Iberville Parish and would be both unenforceable and counter to the fundamental principles of this country." 

The ACLU letter also pointed out that similar laws, including a federal flag protection law, have been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"This country was founded on the principles of dissent and fundamental to those principles is the right to criticize the government," the letter continued. "Indeed, a hallmark of a free society is the right to be critical of those in power -- and one way to do that is through the symbolic of the flag."

"Flag burning, 'desecration,' or other acts involving the flag, like other forms of dissent, are political speech fully protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," the civil rights organization continued in its letter.

"That means this speech can't be censored by the government and it can't be made a crime," the letter signed by ACLU Executive Director Marjorie R. Esmain said. "...We urge you not to pass this ordinance which will violate the rights of the people you are elected to serve."