Papillion, Neb. A judge on Friday set no timetable for a ruling in a case that questions whether Nebraska’s flag-desecration law violates the free speech rights of a woman who let her child stand on the flag during the funeral of a soldier.
Shirley Phelps-Roper of Topeka, Kan., was charged with violating the law in 2007. She and her attorney, Bassel El-Kasaby, are appealing a county court ruling upholding the law.
Sarpy County District Judge William Zastera told El-Kasaby and the prosecutor Friday that he will review their arguments and rule later. The attorneys made no oral arguments.
Authorities say Phelps-Roper let her then-10-year-old son stand on an American flag at the funeral of a National Guardsman in Bellevue. They also say she wore a flag as a skirt that dragged on the ground.
Phelps-Roper, who was protesting in Los Angeles on Friday and did not attend the hearing, is a member of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., whose members say U.S. troop deaths are punishment for the nation tolerating homosexuality.
She also faces charges of disturbing the peace, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and negligent child abuse stemming from the incident. El-Kasaby argues the application of those charges — not the charges alone — is unconstitutional because they stem from the flag-desecration charge.
Nebraska’s law against flag desecration bars intentionally “casting contempt or ridicule” upon a flag by mutilating, defacing, defiling, burning or trampling it. Violating the law carries a misdemeanor charge. Prosecutors have argued the law prohibits only those five methods.
But El-Kasaby has argued those methods are open to interpretation and leave people confused about how they can legally protest using the flag.
El-Kasaby said he expects Zastera to affirm the county court’s ruling, which would free him to take his arguments to the Nebraska Supreme Court.
“That’s kind of what we want. This is the only way that allows us to go on with the appeal ... and appeal directly to the Nebraska Supreme Court,” he said.
But his client, who says the state of Nebraska has been experimenting with her liberty for two years, sees it differently.
Phelps-Roper said she doesn’t care what happens with the court case. The nation is sprinting toward its destruction and she can’t do anything about it, she said.
“I obeyed the law that day in Nebraska and everybody knows it,” she said.