Federal judge rules Missouri flag desecration law unconstitutional

2012-03-21T19:52:00Z 2012-04-11T20:06:20Z Federal judge rules Missouri flag desecration law unconstitutionalBY PATRICK M. O'CONNELL • poconnell@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8126 stltoday.com

A federal judge this week ruled Missouri's state law prohibiting desecration of the United States or Missouri flag is unconstitutional and permanently prevented its enforcement.

U.S. District Judge Carol E. Jackson issued the permanent injunction Tuesday. The ruling came in the case of a Cape Girardeau man who sued the city, the Cape Girardeau County prosecutor and a police officer, accusing them of violating his civil rights after he was arrested for cutting up a U.S. flag with a knife and throwing it into the street.

Jackson ruled the Missouri statute is "unconstitutional on its face." The judge ordered the state, political subdivisions and its officials to stop "enforcing or threatening to enforce" the law.

Frank L. Snider, upset the Social Security Administration denied him disability benefits, attempted to set fire to a U.S. flag in his front yard on Oct. 20, 2009. Snider then shredded it with a knife and threw it in the street. A neighbor called police to complain, and a Cape Girardeau police officer arrived, issued Snider a summons for littering and left.

Snider was later charged with violating the state's flag desecration law, arrested and held in jail for eight hours. The charge was later dropped after the prosecutor reviewed case law about a U.S. Supreme Court decision that held that a Texas state law criminalizing flag desecration was unconstitutional. A Cape Girardeau city ordinance prohibiting flag desecration was repealed in February 2011.

The ACLU of Eastern Missouri filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Cape Girardeau on behalf of Snider.

Jackson ruled Wednesday that Snider's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizure was violated by the police officer when he was arrested for violating state law. The judge dismissed Snider's other claims. A trial is scheduled for August to determine damages.

Patrick M. O'Connell covers crime and breaking news for STLtoday.com and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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