Anybody who steals someone else’s private property and then burns it to smoldering ash deserves some kind of punishment under the law, but do they deserve a full 16 years in prison if this act of vandalism is charged as a “hate crime?” One Iowa man now finds himself at the center of that controversial question.
“A man has been sentenced to more than 15 years in prison for burning an LGBTQ flag that was flying at a church in central Iowa,” reports the Associated Press.
For the crime of reckless use of explosives or fire, 30-year-old Adolfo Martinez received one year in prison. For the crime of harassment, he received just 30 days. For the hate crime of burning an LGBT rainbow pride flag, Martinez received a full 15 years.
“The sentences are to be served consecutively, Story County court records show,” continued the Associated Press. “A jury convicted Martinez in November. He was arrested in June. Martinez said he tore down the flag that had been hanging from the United Church of Christ in Ames and burned it because he opposes homosexuality.”
As already stated, Martinez clearly committed a crime when he stole the rainbow flag from the Ames United Church of Christ and set fire to it outside the Dangerous Curves Gentleman’s Club, but the sentencing of 15 years has sparked a broader debate on whether or not the government overreached, especially in light of the fact that burning the American flag is now considered protected speech. People took to social media to voice their concerns.
“[Sixteen] years. This guy just got 16 years in prison for burning the flag of a state-protected group. For context, the average sentence for rape is under ten years. Hate crime laws are out of control,” tweeted Joel Kurtinitis, a contributor to The Federalist. “[Fifteen] of the 16 years were *just* for the hate crime. The actual vandalism sentence was under a year.”
“Unbelievable. We said decades ago, hate crimes laws are insane and dangerous. They would be abused. We were told we were heartless. And now, today,” tweeted pastor James White.
“Black people have their Civil Rights violated daily and no one is punished. But those same civil rights laws that FBA fought for, are now used to protect FLAGS from other groups,” tweeted Tariq Nasheed.
“Man sentenced to 16 years for stealing and burning an LGBTQ flag. This is going to be infamously controversial, or should be. Of course, stealing and destroying property is very wrong. But when the property is a flag, 16 years is ridiculously excessive,” tweeted Larry Sanger.
“Crime: Man Burns Flag. Charge: Hate Crime. Sentence: 16 Years. What happens in the U.S. if you burn the Stars & Stripes flag? Apparently, that is within the spirit of ‘Freedom of Expression’ Insane!” said one Twitter user.
“And yet, we can burn an American flag, and we’re told it’s freedom of speech. That kind of selectivity is hypocritical. Hate crime laws have rendered/are continuing to further render freedom of speech a thing of the past, sadly,” said another Twitter user.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court case of Texas v. Johnson, the burning of the American flag is protected speech.