There is a highly disturbing story out of Somers, Iowa where Homer Martz was reportedly charged for flying a U.S. flag upside down in protest over an oil pipeline put near his home. It is clearly a protected act under the First Amendment, but the town of Somers appears to lack a single lawyer — or a telephone number for a single lawyer — to explain free speech protections to them.
Martz reportedly put the upside down flag under the Chinese flag. He was enraged by the pipeline set to be placed without his consent next to his water well. He added a sign reading “In China there is no freedom, no protesting, no due process. In Iowa? In America?”
There is still an Iowa law making flag desecration is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail. Iowa code 718A criminalizes “publicly mutilate, deface, defile or defy, trample upon, cast contempt upon, satirize, deride or burlesque, either by words or act, such flag, standard, color, ensign, shield, or other insignia of the United States, or flag, ensign, great seal, or other insignia of this state.”
It is one of 40 such state laws, but it is presumptively unconstitutional. In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled in Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989), that prohibitions on desecrating the American flag were unconstitutional. Obviously, if you can burn a flag, you can fly it upside down. If that were not enough for Somers police and officials, the Court ruled in 1990 in United States v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310 (1990) that a federal law against flag desecration violated the First Amendment.
Marty is a veteran and said that he would never has flown the flag upside had he known it was illegal. It isn’t illegal but his town does not appear to realize it.