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Illinois lawmaker seeks to criminalize flying American flag upside down

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(The Center Square) – A veteran Illinois lawmaker is in opposition to recently introduced legislation that would make it a crime for government officials to knowingly fly an upside down flag on government property.

State Rep. Harry Benton has introduced legislation that would prohibit politically motivated efforts that disrespect the flag.

“The flag of the United States is an enduring symbol of our national spirit and pride, and of the sacrifices made by every generation of Americans,” said Benton.

Benton is responding to a local incident in which a Will County official flew the American flag upside down after Donald Trump was convicted on 34 felony counts.

Steve Balich, supervisor of Homer Township in Will County, reportedly ordered the national flag outside the Homer Township offices to be flown upside down after the conviction of former President Donald Trump.

The Center Square attempted to reach Balich for comment but he didn’t immediately respond.

“The public official who made this sad choice – to disrespect our nation’s flag and everything it stands for – may be disappointed in the outcome of a certain criminal trial, but that is no excuse,” said Benton. “That he then attempted to deflect rising outrage by draping himself in the very same flag he’d just finished spitting on makes his actions all the more pathetic.”

State Rep. David Friess, an air force veteran, said he believes if an individual feels the country is in a time of distress, he or she should be able to fly the flag upside down.

“Even as a veteran, I don’t lose my cool … I understand that one of the greatest freedoms we have is free speech and I may not agree with an individual if he or she flies the flag upside down, but I absolutely respect your right to do that,” said Friess.

Benton’s House Bill 5860 would make it a crime for a government official to knowingly cause the national flag to be displayed upside down on government property.

Friess said he doesn’t think the bill will go anywhere, but he hopes Benton will couple the legislation with a measure prohibiting the burning of flags at Black Lives Matter or Pro-Palestine protests.

“I would love to see him put out a bill that you can’t burn a flag during a Pro-Hamas rally, a Pro-Palestinian rally or BLM rally,” said Firess.

Benton said in a news release, “that despite our differences, we’re all Americans.”

Benton also filed House Bill 5861, which goes beyond making it a crime to fly an upside down flag but also makes it punishable by a fine of up to $25,000.

Benton said in a news release that both of his bills, House Bill 5860 and House Bill 5861, clarify that the flag may only be flown upside down in situations where there is dire distress or extreme danger to life or property, the purpose for which such display is prescribed in the U.S. Flag Code.

Friess said a large portion of the country believes America is in distress considering Trump was convicted while he’s running for the presidency.

“You have a former president prosecuted. And I firmly believe that the only reason he was prosecuted is because he’s running for president again. Had he not thrown his hat in the ring for 2024 … they would not have prosecuted him, no doubt in my mind,” said Friess.

Benton said elected leaders swear an oath to the American flag and the nation it represents, not to a political leader.

Friess said when he saw House Bill 5861 making the offense of flying a flag upside down punishable by a fine of up to $25,000, he laughed out loud.

“This comes at a time when the Democrat party is doing everything they can to decriminalize any and all behavior. Anytime there’s a penalty enhancement their hair catches on fire. So, you’re going to fine somebody $25,000 for an expression of what I would think would be covered by the First Amendment,” said Friess.

Both bills could advance during the fall veto session in November.