Wednesday, February 4, 2009
A Sarpy County judge has denied a challenge to Nebraska’s flag desecration statute raised by a Kansas woman who argued it violates her right to free speech.
Judge Todd Hutton ruled Tuesday that prosecutors can proceed with their case against Shirley Phelps-Roper. She is a member of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., whose members believe that U.S. troop deaths are punishment for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality. The group has protested at military funerals nationwide.
Authorities say Phelps-Roper let her 10-year-old son stand on an American flag at the funeral of a National Guardsman in June 2007 in Bellevue. They also say she wore a flag as a skirt that dragged on the ground.
Nebraska’s law against flag desecration prohibits intentionally “casting contempt or ridicule’’ upon a flag by mutilating, defacing, defiling, burning and trampling it. Violating the law carries a misdemeanor charge.
The Nebraska Supreme Court is responsible for deciding whether a law violates the state Constitution, Hutton said. The case remains in a county court, which has limited authority.
Nebraska lawmakers didn’t try to change the law after a U.S. Supreme Court case challenged a Texas’ flag desecration law some 20 years ago.
“The Nebraska Supreme Court has held where a statute has been judicially construed and that construction has not evoked an amendment from the Legislature, it will be presumed that the Legislature acquiesced in the court’s findings,’’ he wrote.
“The Nebraska Supreme Court has yet to reconcile the findings’’ in the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings in the Texas case and other flag cases, Hutton said.
Read full story here. [Brooks Holland]