The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, January 30, 2004

The New McCarthyism down Florida way

Students at Archbishop McCarthy High, in Broward County, get a civics lesson from the judges of the Florida State Thespians District 13 one-act play competition (South Florida Sun-Sentinel January 30).

In a freelance act of interposition that would gladden the hearts of old White Citizens Council hands, one Melody Wicht (a local teacher judging the competition) decided that the AMH offering should be disqualified because the action of the play involved the cutting up of the US flag.

(The p├Čece, The Children's Story by James Clavell, is set in a US under foreign occupation. It's a patriotic play.)

Unfortunately, certain of the audience who failed to get the point of the play decided to whinge (grievance-mongering is an equal opportunity occupation) and, needless to say, the line of least resistance was taken. (Whether there was an ambulance-chaser in the hall touting for business so as to suggest that a shakedown was in prospect, I know not.)

Not that Ms Wicht isn't something of a legal expert herself, it seems:
Wicht said she based her decision on Florida Statute 876.52, which says "Whoever publicly mutilates, defaces or tramples with intent to insult any flag ... of the United States shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree."

Now, I want some 5Ws here: at what stage did Wicht become aware of this statute? Who drew it to her attention? That sort of thing.

Unfortunately, for Wicht, it seems that the Supremes have already visited the question of flag-desecration laws, and found them to be unconstitutional, in Texas v Johnson (1989) [1]. If there is a valid distinction between the Texas law struck down and the Florida brandished by Wicht, I can't see it.

Any chance of action by the AMH kids to vindicate their constitutional rights? It's not clear. But one of the parents is
is worried that the incident will mean an enduring bias against McCarthy's drama club
which shows about as much fighting spirit as the judges. On the other hand she does say
she's glad they stirred things up.

So perhaps she might be open to stirring things up a bit more.

At least as far as Wicht paying a visit to AMH to point out her legal error. As an act of pedagogy, if not of contrition.

  1. Scalia voting with the good guys; Injustice O'Connor joining in Rehnquist's dissent.

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