Saturday, July 11, 2009
A Minor Instance of Abuse?
WAUSAU, Wis. – An American flag flown upside down as a protest in a northern Wisconsin village [Crivitz] 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. – from an AP news item by Robert Imrie, July 10, 2009, found on Yahoo! News.
The flag may properly be flown upside down as a distress signal.
The news article states that Mr. Vito Congine, Jr. was flying an American Flag upside down as a protest. Police removed the flag and returned it to him the next day. Congine, according to the article, was protesting because the village board refused to grant him a liquor license although he had spent nearly $200,000 to buy and remodel a building for a restaurant. The flag was removed hours before a Fourth of July parade, the article said.
So what’s the problem?
Simply that a man had his property seized and his protest halted by police for no good reason. This incident, though relatively minor compared to some things governments are doing to abuse citizens by denying them their rights, represents a disturbing attitude by the authorities and an ignorance of or disdain for constitutional rights.
I’m not in favor of flying the flag in any way that is not in accordance with legitimate flag-display standards. But what Mr. Congine was doing is a legitimate act of expression, if not the best flag-flying etiquette. What happened to him was abuse of a law-abiding citizen. I am certainly not a fan of the ACLU, but in this case, I wish them and Mr. Congine success if they challenge this action in court.
Mr. Imrie’s article stated that the flag was seized on the advice of the district attorney.
The DA should know better. The Supreme Court has held that even burning the flag is a legitimate act of protected free expression (Texas vs. Johnson, 1989 and United States vs. Eichman, 1991). Flying the flag upside down is not an act of violence and arguably not disrespectful of the flag.
However, the authorities showed disrespect for Mr. Congine and his rights. The sheriff gave about the lamest excuse possible for their actions. According to the news article: “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.” He said it is illegal to cause a disruption.
Disruption? Now a flag-burning in the middle of a July Fourth parade could have been a disruption. But apparently legal. Mr. Congine did not “cause” a disruption. If people were upset, it was their own responsibility, not his. Free expression is free only if it can be done even though people don’t like it.
This is a seemingly small example of government interference with a citizen’s constitutional rights. As noted in other articles in these blogs, the Obama Administration seeks to destroy important constitutional rights on a large scale. But constitutional rights deserve protection at all levels.
The AP article quoted Mr. Congine as saying, “It is pretty bad when I go and fight a tyrannical government somewhere else, and then I come home to find it right here at my front door.” He also said he plans to keep flying his flag upside down.
Photo: Detail of AP photo, furnished by Susan Willems, taken July 5, 2009