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HS Drama Team Cuts Flag at Competition

January 30, 2004

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) _ High school students performing a play they saw as a pro-democracy tale were disqualified from a theater competition for a flag-cutting scene that judges say broke Florida laws.

The troupe was performing a 1963 James Clavell play called ``The Children’s Story.″ In it, a class of U.S. third graders cut up the flag after the country is defeated by a powerful enemy. Illustrating how easily minds can be molded, their new teacher tells them that if the flag is so good, everyone should get a piece.

Judges at the Florida State Thespians District 13 one-act play competition said cutting up the flag was illegal, and disqualified the group from the competition earlier this week.

Melody Wicht, one of the judges, said many people complained about the play, but she based her decision on a Florida statute that charges ``whoever publicly mutilates, defaces or tramples with intent to insult″ the flag with a first-degree misdemeanor.

``I tried to stay as objective as possible as they performed,″ she said.

But one legal scholar said Florida’s laws are outdated. Bruce Rogow, a Nova Southeastern University law professor specializing in constitutional law and First Amendment rights, cited a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a similar Texas law, ruling flag desecration may be an expression of disagreement in a democracy.

``What’s especially ironic is that this is a pro-democracy, anti-totalitarianism play, and yet they’re punished for using the flag as an example of what shouldn’t be done in a totalitarian society,″ Rogow said.

The student-participants from Archbishop McCarthy High in Fort Lauderdale said the play presents a patriotic message.

``The play is actually pro-American,″ said Erin Fragetta, 15, who worked on the production. ``It was intended to be an anti-communist message, and the judges just turned it around on us.″

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