MARYVILLE, Tenn. – A teenager was jailed for nine days after being accused of burning an American flag on the Fourth of July, and he faces trial next month.
While the case could test a state statute against flag burning — an act the U.S. Supreme Court says is protected under the First Amendment (search) — prosecutors said Andrew Elisha Staley (search) has yet to argue that he was exercising free speech rights.
"Bottom line is, the kid got drunk," said Lisa Lee, his mother. "He's never been in trouble before."
Staley, 18, is accused of taking the flag from a residence and setting it on fire. His father said the teenager "has no reason for anger against the United States" and could easily have ignited a garbage can instead of a flag.
"He was brought up in church, and he knows right from wrong," Doc Staley said.
Doc Staley said his son has been "floundering around" since dropping out of high school. "This is where the drinking came in. And he's not very good at it," the father said.
The teenager was released from jail Thursday on his own recognizance while he awaits his Aug. 2 trial on charges of desecrating a venerated object, underage drinking, littering, evading arrest, burning personal property and theft.
The Tennessee flag-burning statute (search) makes the crime a misdemeanor, punishable by less than a year in jail and up to $2,500 fine.