The ACLU represents Bryton Mellott, a 22-year-old Urbana resident, unlawfully arrested and jailed for burning an American flag on July 4, 2016 and posting photos of the event to Facebook. Despite clear Supreme Court rulings finding desecration of the flag to be protected free speech, Urbana police arrested and detained Mr. Mellott for five hours after he burned a flag to express his concern about racial discrimination and other injustices.

Mr. Mellott’s social media post received a number of comments (positive and negative) and was shared a number of times by others. An Urbana police officer telephoned Mr. Mellott at work and asked if he had burned a flag and posted pictures of the event. Surprised by the police’s interest, Mr. Mellott explained that he had burned the flag and posted the pictures in peaceful protest against a number of social ills. 

The Urbana police officer asked Mr. Mellott to take down the post, which Mr. Mellott refused to do. The call ended and Mr. Mellott went back to work. He was arrested about a half hour later.  

The judge in the case ruled that the state statute under which Mr. Mellott was unconstitutional. Following that ruling, the case was settled with a  payment of damages to Mr. Mellott.  


Rebecca Glenberg and Bharathi Pillai (ACLU of Illinois), Everett Cygal (Schiff Hardin)

Date filed

January 11, 2017


U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois



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