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Urbana Man Files Federal Lawsuit After Flag Burning Arrest

Facebook/Bryton Mellott

An Urbana man arrested for burning an American flag last summer has filed a federal lawsuit, seeking to have Illinois’ flag desecration law officially declared unconstitutional.  

Last July, Bryton Mellott posted photos showing him holding a burning flag on Facebook. He was asked by Urbana police to remove the pictures. When Mellott refused, he was arrested at work, and spent five hours in jail. 

Charges were later dropped after police realized that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling protects flag-burning under the 1st Amendment. But police later suggested Mellott was detained for his own personal safety.  

Mellott… who is gay… says his actions were in response to last year’s shootings at an Orlando gay nightclub that killed 49 people… and also what he called “the resurgence of blind nationalism” in the country’s current political climate. He says posting pictures of the flag-burning on Facebook brought him unwanted attention but also some support.

“My immediate community has definitely been affected by this in a very positive way. A lot of friends that maybe held opinions that I found unfavorable have come around to the issues that I’ve brought up, and they understand that these are real problems.”

Mellot’s lawsuit was filed on his behalf Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. It names four Urbana police officers and seeks unspecified monetary damages.  

ACLU Attorney Rebecca Glenburg says Illinois’ law banning flag-burning stayed on the books even after the Supreme Court ruled in defense of such actions in 1989.  She says the best way to address the issue is by filing a new bill with lawmakers this spring.