Iowan accused of desecrating US flag in oil pipeline protest

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SOMERS, Iowa (AP) -- An Iowa man who flew a U.S. flag upside down under a Chinese flag to protest future placement of an oil pipeline near his home has been charged with desecrating the American banner.

Homer Martz told The Messenger the pipeline will be placed without his consent next to the well supplying his Calhoun County home south of Somers. The town is about 20 miles southwest of Fort Dodge.

Martz said he put the flag up to protest what he said was a lack of due process after he wasn't notified at first about the pipeline.

He wrote on a sign on the flagpole, "In China there is no freedom, no protesting, no due process. In Iowa? In America?"

Under Iowa law flag desecration is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail. Iowa code 718A makes it a misdemeanor to "publicly mutilate, deface, defile or defy, trample upon, cast contempt upon, satirize, deride or burlesque, either by words or act, such flag, standard, color, ensign, shield, or other insignia of the United States, or flag, ensign, great seal, or other insignia of this state," among other things.

In December 2014, an Iowa Federal District Court judge ruled Iowa's flag desecration laws were unconstitutional.

Martz, a U.S. Army veteran, said the Supreme Court has ruled people can burn the American flag.

At least 40 states still have flag-desecration laws, punishing those who burn or otherwise damage U.S. flags with fines or even jail time. Yet, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in separate cases in 1989 and 1990 that flag burning and other forms of damage are constitutionally protected free speech.

The pipeline route starts in North Dakota and runs through South Dakota and Iowa before ending in Illinois.