Confederate flag sparks free-speech battle

State law protects U.S. flag from insult
Saturday, 06 Apr 2013

ALAMOGORDO, N.M. (KRQE) – A New Mexico man who flew a Confederate battle flag over his Alamogordo-area property  faces a petty misdemeanor charge based on what he flew it with.

That Confederate flag, a symbol of slavery and racism to millions of Americans, could buy Scott Brown a ticket to jail.

A few months ago Otero County sheriff’s deputies asked Brown to take down his flag, which was flying next to the U.S. stars and stripes.  So he did.

Later that day, however, a deputy came to his house and cited him under a 1963 state law making it illegal to insult the U.S. flag or attach to it anything not connected with the patriotic history of the nation.

Now Brown has retained attorney Roberta Yurcic to defend him against the charge of an improper use of an official symbol.

“If you ask somebody from the South, the Confederate flag does have some significance to our patriotic heritage,” Yurcic said.

Brown said it is all a misunderstanding.

"We love our country, and no matter what flag is up there, I meant respect for my father-in-law that passed away,” Brown told KRQE News 13.

Brown said his father-in-law left him the Confederate flag, so he put it up days after his death in his honor.

“For us, the main issue is Mr. Brown’s constitutional rights,” Yurcic added. “He has a First Amendment right to free speech, and for us that is what this case is all about."

The prosecuting attorney would not say if she agrees it is a free speech issue or not.

“We are not really at liberty to discuss the facts and ongoing litigation, alleged facts or otherwise,” Assistant District Attorney Ellen Jessen said.

Meanwhile, Brown is worried about how this will affect his family.

“My client is his wife’s full-time caretaker.  His wife has become disabled during the pendency of this case, and she can no longer care for herself,” Yurcic said.

Brown’s alleged crime is a petty misdemeanor, but he still faces up to 182 days in jail and a $500 fine if he’s found guilty.

Confederate flags did fly briefly over New Mexico during the Civil War.  A Rebel army invaded from Texas in 1861 and occupied Albuquerque and Santa Fe before being driving out of the territory the next year after the Battle of Glorieta Pass.

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