PITTSBURGH – The ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a federal lawsuit today against Allegheny Township and its police chief, who filed criminal charges against Joshuaa Brubaker under Pennsylvania’s flag insult and flag desecration statutes because he did not approve of Brubaker’s conduct in hanging an American flag upside down with the letters “A.I.M.” painted on it. The lawsuit claims that the charges violated Brubaker’s free-speech rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that the Constitution protects the right to use the American flag in protest,” said ACLU-PA staff attorney Sara Rose. “The government cannot charge you with a crime simply because some people think your speech is disrespectful.”
Brubaker hung an upside down American flag on the side of his Allegheny Township home in May 2014 with the initials “A.I.M.” painted on it because he believes the United States is in distress. Specifically, he wanted to communicate his distress over a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision making it easier for police to search vehicles and the proposed Keystone Pipeline project, which would run through Wounded Knee Indian territory. Brubaker and his wife are of American Indian descent. The letters “A.I.M.” stand for “American Indian Movement.”
“I believe that our country is in distress,” Brubaker said. “I displayed the flag to show my kids that when you believe in something so strongly, you have to take a stance, no matter whether it’s popular or unpopular.”
After receiving a complaint about Brubaker’s flag, Allegheny Township Assistant Police Chief Leo John Berg III removed the flag from Brubaker’s home, without informing Brubaker. When Brubaker went to the police station to report the stolen flag, an officer took his statement. As he was leaving, Berg told him that flag desecration charges would be filed against him.
Brubaker was charged with misdemeanors under two Pennsylvania statutes: Insult to National or Commonwealth Flag, which carries a maximum sentence of 2 years imprisonment and a $5,000 fine, and Desecration of Flag, which carries a maximum sentence of 1 year imprisonment and a $2,000 fine. A Blair County Court of Common Pleas judge dismissed both charges in April.
“Mr. Brubaker was arrested and prosecuted because he said something the government disliked. It was the government that acted illegally by punishing Mr. Brubaker for expressing his ideas,” said Andy Shubin, one of the attorneys representing Brubaker. In addition to Shubin and Rose, Brubaker is represented by Witold Walczak of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
More about the case can be found at: www.aclupa.org/Brubaker