Fireworks077.jpg (copy)

American flags fly along the walkway leading to the USS Kidd during Fourth of July celebrations in downtown Baton Rouge. 

ADVOCATE FILE PHOTO BY PATRICK DENNIS

PLAQUEMINE — Burning flags in Iberville Parish will cost those involved up to $1,000 and/or some time in jail, under an ordinance the Parish Council unanimously adopted Tuesday prohibiting desecration of the American flag, Louisiana flag and parish flag.    

Council Chairman Matt Jewell said they want to avoid incidents like the one reported last year at a university in Ohio involving the intentional burning of an American flag, an act that angered many war veterans.

Jewell described the council's vote as a preemptive step and not one sparked by any local problems with flag desecration. 

"We are a very patriotic parish. Not looking for much push-back on this," Jewell said in an interview before Tuesday night's meeting. "I don't expect us to have any problems. We're just doing this as more of a symbolic kind of thing."

There was no opposition to the ordinance during a public hearing before Tuesday's vote. 

However, the council's ordinance did receive criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, which called it a violation of the public's constitutional rights and "unforceable." 

"The people of Iberville Parish are entitled to the full range of Constitutional protections guaranteed to everyone in this country," ACLU executive director Marjorie Esman said in an Oct. 13 letter to the parish.

"While members of the Parish Council may not like to see alterations of any kind to official flags, all of you have sworn to uphold the Constitution and laws of Louisiana and the United States," Esman wrote. "Those laws protect the rights of dissent and to use images of the flag, even in ways that elected officials may disapprove." 

Under the ordinance, anyone who desecrates the American, state or parish flags in unincorporated parts of the parish can be fined up to $1,000 and/or face up to six months in jail.

The ordinance was praised Tuesday night by the small crowd of veterans who showed up at the public hearing prior to the vote. Those who spoke encouraged the council to adopt the ordinance, calling the burning of the flags — the American flag in particular — an act disrespectful to them and to the country. 

"I encourage you to protect our flag so that we never show disrespect to those who lost their lives fighting for us," James "Fry" Hymel told the council on behalf of the Westside Honor Guard. "We see our society crumbling around us. … If we can't respect our nation's symbol, then just what can we respect?"

Randall Hyatt, an Iraq War veteran, characterized people burning the American flag as attention seekers looking to offend and mock the country. 

"Freedom of speech and the First Amendment is a legal protection, not a license to act ignorant to draw perverse fame," Hyatt told the council. "The flag is dear to me. Soldiers died wearing it. We have (military) customs and traditions that show cause for it to be treated with respect." 

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.