KANSAS CITY Mo. (Reuters) - A Missouri man who shredded an American flag in front of his home out of anger over not being able to get a job had a constitutional right to do so, a U.S. appeals court said on Friday.
Upholding a federal judge's decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit found that a Missouri state law prohibiting desecration of an American flag is unconstitutional, and Frank L. Snider should not have been arrested for the deed in 2009.
Snider spent eight hours in jail in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, after a police officer arrested him for cutting up a flag with a knife and then throwing the flag into the street. The officer said Snider had told him it was the country's fault he could not find a job, the appeals court opinion said.
The U.S. Supreme Court held in 1989 that burning or otherwise destroying the nation's flag was protected as a free-speech right. Snider sued Cape Girardeau and the police officer, seeking nominal and punitive damages. The state of Missouri later intervened in the case.
The federal judge ruled for Snider and later awarded him $7,000 in actual damages against the officer and $61,890 in attorney fees, plus costs, against the officer and the state.
"This country has a long history of protecting expressive conduct on First Amendment grounds, especially where the American flag is the mode of expression," the appeals court panel said in its ruling.
Snider was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri.
Reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Missouri; Editing by David Bailey and Prudence Crowther