Federal appeals court overturns Missouri ban on flag desecration

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that Missouri's ban on desecrating the American flag is unconstitutional. On October 20, 2009, Frank Snider was arrested for violating Missouri Revised Statute 578.095 [text] by shredding an American flag and tossing the remnants in the street, a Class A misdemeanor. Upon review of Texas v. Johnson [text], law enforcement released Snider after eight hours of imprisonment. Snider sued for damages and was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri [press release]. Citing Texas v. Johnson and United States v. Eichman [text], the appeals court upheld the plaintiff's argument for summary judgment, awarding punitive damages. In its defense, the intervening state of Missouri argued that local police enforcement was simply ignorant to the decades-old ruling that protects desecration of the American flag as a form of free speech.

In March 2012 the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that the ban could not be enforced against the act of igniting the flag. Though the statute has never been removed from the state's code, it had not been enforced since 1989 when the US Supreme Court ruled in Texas v Johnson. Since that landmark decision, the issue of flag burning has been a contentious legal issue which has received a large amount of legislative attention. In 1995, 2000 and 2006 the US Senate has voted on amending [JURIST report] the Constitution to ban flag burning. The closest these efforts came to fruition was in 2006 where the measure failed by one vote [JURIST report].

 

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