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3 Yale students charged with burning American flag

By The Associated Press,
First Amendment Center Online

Editor's note: The Associated Press reported that Yale University student Hyder Akbar received a sentence of 50 hours of community service and probation for burning an American flag on the porch of a home, his attorney said on April 26. Charges against the two other students were dismissed. Akbar's arrest for reckless burning will be erased from the records if he stays out of trouble.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Three Yale University students have been arrested on charges of setting fire to an American flag hanging from the porch of a private home.

The three were arrested early yesterday after police on patrol spotted the burning flag and tore it from pole where it was mounted to the house on Chapel Street, police said.

Said Hyder Akbar, 23, Nikolaos Angelopoulos, 19, and Farhad Anklesaria, also 19, were arrested on charges ranging from reckless endangerment to arson. They were not charged with flag-burning.

“Though the U.S. Supreme Court has invalidated flag-desecration statutes in 1989 and 1990 on First Amendment grounds, that does not mean that individuals can burn flags and face no criminal charges," said First Amendment scholar David Hudson of the First Amendment Center.

"There are generally applicable criminal laws, such as laws against vandalism, for which there is no free-speech defense," Hudson said. "Justice Scalia alluded to this fact in his opinion in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (1992) — a case involving a juvenile who burned a cross in a neighbor’s yard — when he said the city of St. Paul had ‘sufficient means at its disposal to prevent such behavior without adding the First Amendment to the fire.’ Presumably, the authorities in this (New Haven) case have ‘sufficient means’ to prohibit such threatening conduct.”

Angelopoulos and Anklesaria, who are freshmen, are both foreign citizens. Anklesaria is British and Angelopoulos is Greek.

Akbar, a senior, was born in Pakistan, according to police, but is a U.S. citizen. Both Anklesaria and Angelopoulos had to hand over their passports.

Akbar worked as an informal translator for U.S. forces during the invasion of Afghanistan and later published a memoir, Come Back to Afghanistan, based on his experiences there, the Yale Daily News reported today.

At the arraignment in Superior Court a few hours after the arrests, bond was kept at $25,000 for Angelopoulos and Akbar, but was reduced to $15,000 for Anklesaria. They remained jailed last night.

Police said the students had two encounters with officers. Officers Stephanija Van Wilgen and Diane Gonzalez were responding to an unrelated call Haven at about 3 a.m. and were flagged down by the students who asked for directions. A short time later, the two officers returned to Chapel Street to see if the students had found their way home and spotted the burning flag.

"There was a glow in front of the house which they identified as a flag mounted on a pole to the house and it was engulfed in flames," police spokeswoman Bonnie Posick said.

Van Wilgen pulled down the burning flag to prevent the fire from spreading to the house and Gonzalez tracked down the three men.


Implementing a Flag-Desecration Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

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