News Local/State

UPDATE: State’s Atty. Drops Charges Against Urbana Flag-Burner


UPDATE: Prosecutors say they will not file charges against an Urbana man who was arrested Monday, after he posted a photo of himself burning an American flag on Facebook. Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said in a news release Tuesday that her office would not file flag desecration and disorderly conduct charges against Bryton Mellott “as the act of burning a flag is protected free speech according to the US Supreme Court decision, Texas v. Johnson, 491 US 397 (1989)”.

In his own news release, Urbana Police Chief Patrick J. Connolly said he respected Rietz’ decision. He says police had arrested Mellott because they feared an online threat against him at his place of employment could have led innocent bystanders being hurt.

“Our officers strive every day to achieve a balance between public safety and preservation of Constitutional rights,” said Connolly.  

(In the audio accompanying this article, University of Illinois Law Prof. Kurt Lash discusses flag desecration law with Illinois Public Media's Brian Moline.)


ORIGINAL ARTICLE: An Urbana man received death threats --- and an arrest --- after he posted a photo of himself burning an American flag on Facebook.

Bryton Mellott posted the photo of himself burning the flag on Sunday night. By Monday morning, July 4th, Urbana Police were receiving calls about it. Some calls complained about the flag-burning, and others expressed concern for Mellott's safety.

Urbana Police Lt. Joel Sanders said in a news release that police got involved after seeing social media postings threatening violence against Mellott and his employer.

Mellott was arrested, on charges of violating Illinois’ flag desecration law, and for disorderly conduct. But he was later released, with an order to appear in court, after police consulted with a member of the Champaign County State’s Attorney’s office on the flag desecration law’s constitutionality. The U-S Supreme Court ruled in 1989 and 1990 that laws against burning the U-S flag violate the 1st Amendment.

In his initial posting of the flag-burning photo on Facebook, quoted in the News-Gazette and several other news outlets, Mellott wrote, "I would like to one day feel a sense of pride toward my nationality again. But too little progress has been made. Too many people still suffer at the hands of politicians influenced by special interests. too many people are still being killed and brutlized by a police force plagued with authority complexes and racism. Too many people are allowed to be slaughtered for the sale of gun manufacturer profits. Too many Americans hold hate in their hearts in the name of their religion, and for fear of others. .... I do not have pride in my country. I am overwhelmingly ashamed, and I will demonstrate my feelings accordingly. #ArrestMe."

But by the early morning of July 4th, Mellott added another posting, asking for the death threats to stop.

UPDATE: This article has been revised to include some of Mallott's initial Facebook posting. --- 7/5/16 8:33 AM