May 30, 2014

Appeals court overturns Missouri flag-burning law

Frank Snider III sued Cape Girardeau after his 2009 arrest for cutting up an American flag outside his home and trying to set it on fire. An appeals court agreed with an earlier ruling that the law violates free-speech protections.

A federal appeals court has overturned a Missouri law that makes it a crime to burn or otherwise desecrate the American flag, citing constitutional free-speech protections.

Frank Snider III of Cape Girardeau sued the southeast Missouri city after his 2009 arrest for cutting up a U.S. flag outside his home and trying to set it on fire. When the flag failed to ignite, he shredded it with a knife and threw it in the street.

When an angry neighbor called police, Snider told an officer he “hated the United States” and blamed the country for his inability to find a job.

Snider was jailed for eight hours, but local prosecutors dismissed the charges after learning of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling 20 years earlier that deemed a similar law in Texas unconstitutional.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a 2012 lower court ruling that the law violated the First Amendment’s right to free speech.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster had appealed the U.S. District Court ruling.

Koster spokesman Eric Slusher declined to indicate Friday whether the state planned another appeal.

Koster’s office had previously defended the law by citing state residents’ “patriotic sentiment” against damage to the flag.

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