But the New Zealand Flag Is So Pretty…

by Kevin Jon Heller

The logical conclusion of Chertoff, Gonzales, et al.’s reactionary hostility to international law?

This is where we’ve arrived in this country: You have the constitutional right to burn an American flag, but you can get into trouble for simply flying a foreign one.

At least you can in the 30,000-person town of Pahrump, Nevada, which is close to Las Vegas and even closer to stepping over the line with an idiotic, intolerant and insulting ban on foreign (read: Mexican) flags. The town council voted last week, 3-2, to approve an ordinance that makes it illegal to display a foreign flag — unless an American flag is flown above it. Scofflaws face a $50 fine and 30 hours of community service.

Pahrump resident Michael Miraglia proposed the ban because, he said, he got upset when he saw immigrant activists marching through U.S. cities last spring, waving Mexican flags. Mr. Miraglia told USA Today that he was especially miffed that “we had Mexican restaurants closed that day.”


4 Responses

  1. I’ll play along! If this law is struck down as facially unconstitutional (as I believe it is), reversed by the town council, overridden by the Nevada legislature, or at least mercilessly derided by nearly everyone who learns of it, would you regard that as showing the instinctive US affinity for international law? Always looking for the silver lining . . .

    P.S. Agree that the New Zealand flag is pretty, and should fly freely in Pahrump. But if we want an international law hook, wasn’t there some controversy over whether it was permissible to burn it in protest of the Iraq war?

  2. Ed,

    Excellent point — it’s illegal to “desecrate” the flag in New Zealand. Free speech is protected in the NZ Bill of Rights Act, but is subject to a wonderfully amorphous “reasonableness” exception. So you can’t burn the flag, hate speech is criminal, etc.

    On the bright side, because Kiwis take such restrictions for granted, exposing my Law &Society students to cases like R.A.V. makes for fascinating discussion! You should have seen the look on their faces…

    Silver lining, indeed!


  3. To call this “the logical conclusion” to Chertoff and Gonzales’s hostility to international law is more than a little unfair. It’s a bit like saying that the logical conclusion of American liberalism is communism, or the logical conclusion of American conservatism is fascism. It focuses on one tenant of an ideology at the expense of all others.

    Prohibiting the flying of foreign flags by private actors in the U.S. is clearly unconstitutional. Surely there’s nothing facially inconsistent about a person supporting the First Amendment and opposing reliance on non-State actors to determine the meaning of international agreements, right?

  4. I second Gene’s comment. Heller’s patented ipse dixit illogic grows exceeding noisome.

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