Experts weigh in on local flag desecration laws - abc27 WHTM

Experts weigh in on local flag desecration laws

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Airports were the worst for Kit Watson.  

"G.I.s back then stuck out like a sore thumb," he said.  

Watson recalls that no one ever gave him a thank you in those terminals.

Instead, he watched as the flag he was fighting for was set aflame.  

"I just can't believe people would believe that to be freedom of speech," said Watson, who now serves as the Adjutant at Pennsylvania American Legion.

In 1989 the US Supreme Court ruled that burning the flag as a form of protest is protected by the 1st Amendment.

Embroidering one onto a handkerchief? That could be considered a class 3 misdemeanor in Pennsylvania.

"This is a symbol; people do far worse things," said Harrisburg Attorney Corky Goldstein.  

Forty-eight states have flag desecration laws. In Pennsylvania they prohibit activities like using a flag as a promotional material or wearing one as clothing.

Goldstein says that despite this, cases can be hard to prosecute.

"No matter how distasteful that might be, the courts will likely throw that out as a Constitutional issue," he said.  

Back at the American Legion headquarters in Wormleysburg, Watson points out the names on a memorial marker, paying homage to the Pennsylvania heroes who gave their lives fighting during the War on Terror. He says that the men who died in Vietnam were much younger than today.

His mission now is to help those who currently serve in the military get the thanks that he didn't, and for that wants to see more cases of Flag defamation prosecuted.

"Anybody that has ever been to a military funeral and seen their loved one buried under that flag has a different view and opinion of that flag once it is folded and presented to the family."

The lawyers for the man charged with flag desecration in Adams County call the case unconstitutional and expect the court to throw it out.

Old flags can be dropped off at the American Legion or at most VFWs.

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