Responding to a controversy over a Mexican flag flying at a local bar, Reno police and the American Civil Liberties Union issued statements Wednesday emphasizing it is not illegal to fly another flag above the American flag.
A Reno television station broadcast a story on Monday of a U.S. veteran, Jim Broussard, cutting down the U.S. flag flying above the bar and taking it away in protest of what the station reported was an illegal display of the flag.
"I took this flag down in honor of my country with a knife from the U.S. Army," Broussard told officials.
"I'm not going to see this happen to my country," he said. "I want to see someone fight me for this flag."
The Reno Police Department said in a statement Wednesday that while the U.S. Code establishes protocol for the display of the American flag in relation to other flags, the protocol "is advisory and is not a criminal statute.
"There is no sanction for violation of the protocol and is not enforceable by local law enforcement," the statement said.
Likewise, Nevada law contains provisions related to display of flags but "none of those provisions make it unlawful to violate the protocol established in the U.S. Code," the department said.
Gary Peck, director of the ACLU of Nevada in Las Vegas, said several federal courts have held that the flag rules are not mandatory and cannot be enforced.
"Indeed, if the federal flag rules were mandatory, they would clearly violate the First Amendment, which protects every American's right to speak and express themselves, including their choice of flag to display," the ACLU said in a statement.
"In 1989, the Supreme Court held that we even have the right to burn our own flag, which had been outlawed by 48 states. Our robust and meaningful democracy is built upon our First Amendment, which protects our right to express ourselves even when - indeed, particularly when - that expression is distasteful or unpopular."