Most rules of etiquette tell us the United States flag should never be displayed upside down except as a signal of distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
According to the Supreme Court, however, punishment for violating this rule is unconstitutional as a violation of free speech, on the federal level.
In New Mexico, it seems, improper flag display is a petty misdemeanor.
We side with the Supreme Court. It is the right of any citizen to fly the flag upside down, as Steve Benevidez of Tucumcari is probably doing now.
We don’t recommend it in general, because we respect the flag as a symbol of freedom and because the appearance of disrespect can turn away people who might otherwise support your interests and whose interests you support.
Benevidez’s inverted flag created a stir over the weekend.
Two military veterans took it upon themselves to remove his flag. Then, after they talked to him and understood the statement he was trying to make, they relented and returned it. One of the fellows who took the flag posted a picture on his Facebook page of a handshake between the flag-takers and Benevidez.
Benevidez, a Vietnam veteran, believes a state of deep distress exists in the country, which shortchanges veterans on medical care and in other areas. In Tucumcari, widespread drug and alcohol abuse, even among the young, are results of a lack of opportunity, Benevidez believes.
Whether you agree with Benevidez or not, he has the right to think so and the right to express his feelings by upending the symbol of our nation.
Many consider Benevidez’s manner of expression, the alarming sight of our flag turned upside down, disrespectful.
He says he does not mean it that way; he says he loves his country.
Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas said freedom of expression does not include the right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater.
Benevidez’s inversion of the flag stops short of sounding a false alarm as an ill-considered prank.
He is within his rights, but he must also realize that freedom of speech can have consequences.
Others have the same right of expression to say he’s gone too far, or that his actions are an insult to our nation.