In Ames Iowa man was in custody on June 10 after police said he tore down the pride banner displayed at the United Church of Christ near downtown Ames and set it on fire.
Adolfo Martinez, 30, is charged with first-degree harassment, reckless use of fire, fifth-degree criminal mischief and disorderly conduct. He remained held in the Story County Jail pending arraignment. This seems like a fairly cut and dry case of Petty larceny and vandalism. However, the county prosecutor has opted to slap Martinez with an additional, and much more serious hate crime charge.
In Iowa, a hate crime is considered a “penalty enhancement,” which means a person convicted of one of the above enumerated crimes would receive a sentence one degree higher than it would be for the same crime without a bias or hate component. Herein lies the rub. In 1989 the Supreme Court reviewed the case of Texas v Johnson
Texas arrested Johnson and convicted him of breaking a Texas state law that prohibited desecration of the flag of the United States. Johnson was sentenced to one year in prison and ordered to pay a $2,000 fine.
Johnson appealed his conviction, claiming First Amendment protection, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stated that Johnson’s speech was symbolic and ruled in his favor.
The Supreme Court took the case, and in a very unusual majority, the Court voted 5-4 in favor of Johnson. Johnson’s actions, the majority argued, were symbolic speech political in nature and could be expressed even at the affront of those who disagreed with him.
Later, when Congress attempted to pass a federal prohibition on flag burning, the Supreme Court struck it down on Constitutional grounds. Justice Brennan opined
“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable,”
While it’s difficult to dispute that the actions Martinez allegedly committed were illegal, labelling those actions a “hate crime” and seeking sentence enhancement is a stretch. These constant attempts to erode our Constitutional rights must be kept in check. Progressive liberals are seizing on every opportunity to further curtail our rights based solely on their emotions, placing their feelings above the rights of all of us. If burning the flag of our Nation is a protected demonstration of protest, then it should go without saying that burning this banner is too.