Date: February 5, 2010
Byline: Katharine Russ
Vets Prevail in First Amendment Skirmish
ACLU STEPS IN
Several citations issued by VA police officers against U.S. Army veteran Robert Rosebrock, Director, The Veterans Revolution and Co-Director, We the Veterans Chairman, Veterans Affairs Committee, were dismissed just days after the U.S. Attorney’s office was apprised that the ACLU of Southern California was representing Rosebrock in defense of his right to free speech. Rosebrock said, “My First Amendment case was based on our turning the American Flag upside down, which was to send out the “Distress” message that our Veteran’s property is in extreme danger and so are the lives of 20,000 homeless Veterans who should be safely sheltered at their rightful “Home. We did not violate any laws or desecrate the American Flag. We were in full compliance with the U.S. Flag Code.”
Specifically, U.S. Flag Code, Sec. 176 states, “Respect for flag; a) The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.”
Rosebrock was issued six citations. The first for "unauthorized demonstration" was issued July 26, 2009 and dismissed in U.S. Court on October 21, 2009. Rosebrock left the Court at 10:30 AM, and by 1:00 PM the U.S. attorney had issued a warrant for his arrest on the dismissed citation. The other five for "Display of placard or material on VA property" were dismissed in early December.
“The government had no business telling Mr. Rosebrock that it is OK to hang the flag one way because it is fine with the message expressed, but that he cannot hang the flag another way because it expresses a different message that the government does not approve of,” said Peter Eliasberg, Manheim Family Attorney for First Amendment Rights and managing attorney for the ACLU/SC.
Eliasberg added, “Protecting the right of Americans to criticize government officials or their decisions is one of the key goals of the First Amendment of the Constitution.”
Every Sunday since March 2008, Rosebrock, along with fellow veterans, many of them elderly and/or disabled, have been protesting the siphoning off of veteran’s land to several private interests, in particular the planned transfer of VA land for use as a public park.
For over a year veterans displayed the flag on the fence outside the Veteran Administration West LA campus at the corner of Wilshire and San Vicente with no incident.
In June, they began hanging the flag upside down and asserting that the transfer of veteran’s land would endanger veterans. Rosebrock received citations throughout August and September 2009.
Peggy Burgess, NHWNC Land Use Committee, Coalition of Opponents- Sepulveda, voiced her frustration over Rosebrock’s plight. “This is a ‘Home’ for Veterans to heal from war; it is not a public park, private school playground, dog park, open or green space, used car storage lot or anything else that the public wants to use if for.
“There are 20,000 homeless Veterans in Los Angeles County. The West LA VA is their rightful ‘Home,’ so deeded on March 3, 1888, preceded and reinforced by an Act of Congress dated March 2, 1887. Equally important, the Sepulveda VA is deeded as a hospital and healthcare center, not a low-cost public housing project.”
Rosebrock said the VA police have since accused the protestors of loitering and trespassing and have ordered the removal of the flag.
Rosebrock is not alone in his protests against the Veterans Administration blatant divestitures of land. Similarly, the Sepulveda VA is still in danger of being turned into 147 apartments that may or may not be for veterans.
Burgess says that over two million supporters and stakeholders of Veteran’s Service Organizations, Neighborhood Councils and Civic Organizations stand in opposition to the conversions of buildings 4 and 5 at Sepulveda.
In addition to the denial of the variance to build these apartments, there must be approval from Neighborhood Councils and Veteran Service Organizations.
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