DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A flag desecration charge was dropped Monday for a man who protested a crude oil pipeline that crosses his property by hanging an American flag upside down at his home, online court records show.
Homer Martz, 63, was charged Friday under a state law that makes it illegal to defile, cast contempt upon, satirize or deride a flag. That law, however, was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in December 2014 and state prosecutors were told not to enforce it.
The law, which lawmakers have not removed from the books, says law enforcement officers have a duty “to enforce the provisions of this chapter, and for failure to do so they may be removed as by law provided.”
Calhoun County Attorney Tina Meth Farrington filed a motion to dismiss the charges Monday, saying that she read the 2014 federal ruling and concluded she shouldn’t pursue the charge.
“The Legislature should take immediate action to repeal this law so that other citizens and law enforcement are not caught in this type of situation again,” she said.
A judge approved the motion Monday afternoon.
Calhoun County Sheriff William Davis said at the time Martz was arrested, he and the two arresting officers were unaware the law had been struck down.
The American flag was hanging upside down on a flagpole underneath a Chinese flag at Martz’s home, and a sign on the flagpole under the flags said: “In China there is no freedom, no protesting, no due process. In Iowa? In America?”
Martz, an Army veteran, told the Fort Dodge Messenger that it was a display of protest due to frustration over having no say in the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline near the well that serves as the drinking water source for his home.
Iowa regulators have allowed the Texas-based company to build the 1,134-mile pipeline across the state and use eminent domain laws to condemn private land for the pipeline. That decision is the subject of lawsuits filed by landowners who contend Iowa law prohibits forced condemnation by a private company.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa agreed that the Legislature should address the problem but said law enforcement agencies also should be aware of changes in the law.
“Ultimately, law enforcement agencies are responsible for training their officers on the constitutional rights of the people they are sworn to protect, and are liable for failure to do so,” said Rita Bettis, legal director for the ACLU of Iowa.
A recent Associated Press report showed at least 40 states still have flag-desecration laws, despite two U.S. Supreme Court rulings deeming flag burning and other forms of damage constitutionally protected free speech.
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