The controversy over flag-burning has fueled a debate for decades, but what about flag flying? It depends on how it’s done, as an Iraq war veteran embroiled in a local licensing dispute discovered. When Vito Congine flew it upside down over his new restaurant to protest the denial of a liquor license, the police seized it — and the ACLU wants to know why (h/t HA reader Roger B):
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.
A day after the parade, police returned the flag and the man’s protest — over a liquor license — continued.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin is considering legal action against the village of Crivitz for violating Vito Congine Jr.’s’ First Amendment rights, Executive Director Chris Ahmuty said.
The police had an interesting justification:
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.
Is it really? Disturbing the peace usually requires more than just a protest that annoys other people. Otherwise, as a moment’s thought would make clear, the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and to conduct free speech would be meaningless. It’s a point we make often when pushing back against speech codes and political correctness run amuck. The right to free speech cannot depend on it being so banal as to not annoy someone in the population. If a protest speech didn’t get on someone’s nerves, it would be pointless. The only demonstrations anyone could have would be on behalf of sunny days and apple pie … organic, low-carb apple pie.
In this case, Corgine flew his flag on his own property in a manner that would have offended me had I seen it. However, having the police enter his property and seize the flag offends me far more than Corgine’s display. Corgine has a right to protest in a peaceful, non-violent manner, especially on his own property, even if doing so annoys and offends others.
The ACLU would be right to take this case. The county of Marinette would be smarter to settle it quickly before it gets that far.
Update: I agree with the commenters who say that this was a pretty insipid way to protest a liquor license denial. That’s hardly a national crisis. However, under the First Amendment, people have a right to protest, even in insipid ways … which we see pretty much every day.