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Veteran sues federal government for removing upside-down flag

March 16, 2010 |  1:08 pm

A civil rights group filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Veterans Administration, claiming the free speech rights of a 67-year-old Army veteran were violated when a U.S. flag he hung upside down was confiscated.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed the federal suit on behalf of Robert Rosebrock, one of a group of veterans who protested the VA’s land-use policies every Sunday for the last two years outside its West Los Angeles complex.

After protesting for more than a year with the U.S. flag hanging right side up on a fence outside the property, Rosebrock hung it upside down last June as a distress signal to bring attention to the group’s cause, according to a statement released Tuesday.

Rosebrock was cited six times for “unauthorized demonstration or service in a national cemetery or on other VA property," according to the ACLU.

Veterans Administration police demanded Feb. 28 that he take down the flag. When he refused, they removed it.

An associate director for the Veterans Administration e-mailed Rosebrock to say that he and other demonstrators “may not attach the American flag, upside down, in VA property including our perimeter gates,” the ACLU said.

The ACLU contends the government has no right to selectively enforce the display of the flag.

“The government cannot say it’s OK to hang the flag one way but not another just because the latter expresses a message that the government does not approve of,” ACLU attorney Peter Eliasberg said in the statement.

The Veterans Administration did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Rosebrock and other veterans have held their protests in a part of the complex that the Veterans Administration plans to lease as a park. But protesters argue that the space should be used for the benefit and care of veterans.

-- Tony Barboza

Photo:  Robert Rosebrock, left, a 67-year-old Army veteran, and Ernie Hilger, a Army veteran, hold the U.S. flag upside down as a distress symbol, after a news conference at the Veterans Administration property in West Los Angeles, where the VA is planning to lease the area for use as a public park. Credit: Allen J. Schaben  / Los Angeles Times

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