A U.S. Army veteran in Somers, Iowa was arrested and charged with desecrating the United States flag after hanging it upside down under a Chinese flag in protest of an oil pipeline being built without his permission next to a water well that supplies water to his home.
The pipeline is being built against his wishes after eminent domain was granted to the Texas company building the pipeline.
Around 11 a.m. on August 11, two Calhoun County sheriff deputies arrested Homer Martz after they arrived at his home. He said one deputy was carrying his two flags as he approached his home.
“They said, ‘You can’t do this. We have a statute.’ I said I’m sorry but you shouldn’t have took them down,” he said in an interview with The Messenger. “So I walked back out and put them back up.”
“And they arrested me.”
Deputies told Martz that his flag pole, that sits at the end of his driveway was in the Calhoun County’s right-of-way.
Calhoun County Attorney Tina Meth-Farrington Iowa’s flag desecration law is a simple misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail.
Iowa code 718A states it’s 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,” and several other things.
The law says chiefs of police, sheriffs and city marshals could be removed from office for failing to enforce the law.
Martz claims he didn’t even know the law existed.
“If they had asked me to take them down, and showed me the statute, I would have taken them down,” Martz insisted. “But in my book, they trespassed by taking the flags down.”
“In China there is no freedom, no protesting, no due process,” He wrote on a sign posted in front of the flagpole.
“In Iowa? In America?”
Martz flew an upside down U.S. flag under a Chinese flag to protest the lack of due process he received because, at first, he wasn’t notified about the pipeline.
His property fell victim to eminent domain granted to Texas-based Dakota Access LLC in order to build a 1,134-mile oil pipeline through Iowa that passes between his home and his well, which is on his neighbor’s property.
Martz said he fears construction of the pipeline may break his water line, or that it would freeze afterwards.
Dakota Access promised to build the oil pipeline without damaging his line from the water well, but promised to fix it if they do.
Martz, who found himself protesting his land being used against his will as Dakota Access invoked eminent domain to build on his property, says now his rights to free speech are being trampled on.
“I’m a soldier. When I walked to the airport in the ’70s with my dress uniform on, I was spit on,” Martz recollected. “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 pointed out. “It’s legal. That’s the Supreme Court.”
In July, PINAC reported a similar story about an Illinois man who was arrested after he celebrated the Fourth of July by burning a United States flag.
Despite a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court, Texas v. Johnson, decision that ruled flag burning is free speech, Urbana police arresting Bryton Mellott, after he posted photos of himself on Facebook that showed him burning the flag.
But shortly after, Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz declined to actually pursue charges against Mellot because the Illinois flag desecration statute used to arrest him was contradictory to Texas v. Johnson.
Charges we dropped.
Apparently, Calhoun County deputies in Iowa never got the memo about the Supreme Court precedent protecting flag burning as a form of free speech and expression, and have perhaps unwittingly violated Martz’s civil rights when they arrested him and charged Martz with a crime.
And that could be grounds for a lawsuit.