A judge has ruled that the Veterans Administration violated the First Amendment rights of a veteran who protested the agency’s failure to use part of its West Los Angeles property for the benefit of homeless veterans, it was reported on Friday.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles last year on behalf of Robert Rosebrock.
The 68-year-old Vietnam vet has protested the VA’s land-use policies every Sunday since 2008, along with other veterans.
During the protests, Rosebrock displays the American flag upside down on a fence outside the VA property to protest the proposed conversion of a chunk of the land to a public park.
Police demanded that he remove the flag, and when Rosebrock refused, the police took it down. Previously, VA police had allowed Rosebrock to display the flag right side up at the same site, according to the ACLU.
“Hanging the flag upside down was an important and necessary message for Mr. Rosebrock,” said Peter Eliasberg, the ACLU/SC’s legal director. “He fought to defend the First Amendment, and the court decided correctly that the very right he fought for was violated.”
U.S. District Judge S. James Otero issued his written ruling on Thursday.
A call for comment to a VA spokesman in Washington, D.C., was not immediately returned.
Eliasberg said that for 66 weeks in a row, Rosebrock hung the flag right side up without any interference from the VA police.
However, after he started hanging the flag upside down in June 2009, he was quickly cited six times for “unauthorized demonstration or service in a national cemetery or on other VA property,” according to the ACLU.
Rosebrock also received an e-mail from Lynn Carrier, associate director of the Veterans Administration Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, which said in part that he and his fellow demonstrators “may not attach the American flag, upside down, in VA property including our perimeter gates.”
The VA eventually dismissed the citations against Rosebrock, but the action of the VA police in removing a flag that Rosebrock had hung upside down made clear the agency’s unconstitutional policy of denying him his free speech rights, Eliasberg said.