1929 August 3

Stromberg Arrested for Violating California Red Flag Law

 

The San Bernardino, California, District Attorney and members of the American Legion raided the Pioneer Summer Camp, a left-wing-oriented camp for young people, and arrested 19-year-old Yetta Stromberg and four others for violating the California Red Flag Law. The law made it a crime to display a red flag as a “symbol of opposition to organized government.” Children at the camp began each day with a ceremony with a pledge, “I pledge allegiance to the workers’ red flag.”

The Supreme Court overturned her conviction, in Stromberg v. California, on May 18, 1931, in one of its first decisions expanding the scope of the free speech clause of the First Amendment to protect the advocacy rights of radical groups and individuals.

In the pivotal decision in Gitlow v. New York, on June 8, 1925, the Supreme Court for the first time incorporated the free speech and free press clauses of the First Amendment into the Fourteenth Amendment, making it applicable to the states (although it upheld Gitlow’s conviction and the constitutionality of the New York Criminal Anarchy law). The incorporation doctrine was key to the court’s invalidating the California red flag law in Stromberg’s case.

The California law outlawed display of: “a red flag, banner or badge or any flag, badge, banner, or device of any color or form whatever in any public place or in any meeting place or public assembly, or from or on any house, building or window as a sign, symbol or emblem of opposition to organized government or as an invitation or stimulus to anarchistic action or as an aid to propaganda that is of a seditious character . . . .”

Read the 1930 ACLU pamphlet on the case: http://debs.indstate.edu/a505c3_1930.pdf

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