Homer Martz, a 63-year-old U.S. Army veteran from Iowa, was unhappy about the oil pipeline being built on his property by a private company which had been granted access to the land through eminent domain. Among Martz's concerns were the risk the pipeline presents to his water supply and the fact that the pipeline could have been placed — much less disruptively, a few hundred feet away from its current path — where it wouldn't disturb anyone's home or water supply.
So he decided to protest this public-private intrusion into his home by hanging a U.S. flag upside down.
Then the police arrived.
Martz told The Messenger that two members of the sheriff's department showed up at his door last week holding his flags and informed him that he was in violation of an Iowa state statute banning "flag desecration," a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail. Defiantly, Martz walked past the officers and hung the flag upside down once more. He was promptly arrested.
Chapter 718A of Iowa state code makes it a crime 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…"
Though the statute was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2014, and though Iowa prosecutors had been admonished not to enforce it, this "dead law" remains on the books.
Martz also reportedly put up a sign on his flagpole reading "In China there is no freedom, no protesting, no due process. In Iowa? In America?" Martz told The Messenger that the police took down his sign, and added:
"I'm a soldier," he said. "When I walked to the airport in the '70s with my dress uniform on, I was spit on. I stood in front of people that were protesting, and I've been cussed at. And like I said, that's their rights. I've never infringed on their rights.
"But you know, freedom of speech, freedom to protest—people can burn the American flag," Martz said. "It's legal. That's the Supreme Court."
On Monday, Calhoun County Attorney Tina Meth Farrington moved to dismiss the charges against Martz, adding, "The Legislature should take immediate action to repeal this law so that other citizens and law enforcement are not caught in this type of situation again," according to the Associated Press. A judge promptly complied with Farrington's request, dismissing the charges.
Below you can watch a Reason TV interview with Philip K. Howard, the author of The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government: