ACLU Saddened Over Violence Following First Amendment Victory for California Merchant

February 10, 1999 12:00 am

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Wednesday, February 10, 1999

ORANGE COUNTY, CA — Hours after a California court affirmed a Vietnamese man’s right to display controversial political signs and flags in his store, he became a victim of mob violence, the American Civil Liberties Union said today.

A Superior Court Judge dissolved her previous decision which would have forced Truong Van Tran, who leases a store in an Orange County shopping center, to remove a picture of Ho Chi Minh and the current flag of the Republic of Vietnam from the walls of his store.

The court issued the order on the grounds that the flag and picture, which caused protest in the strongly anti-Communist community in Westminster, are protected by Mr. Tran’s right to free speech.

However, since Mr. Tran began to peacefully demonstrate his political beliefs last month, mobs of people have descended upon his store, told him to “go back to Vietnam,” and physically assaulted him on numerous occasions.

According to news reports, upon learning of the ruling one protester slapped him in the face with a spit-covered hand, others forced him to the ground and covered him in the communist flag, and another struck a blow to the back of his head which required hospital treatment.

“We are saddened and outraged about the senseless and cowardly attack Mr. Truong Van Tran,” said Peter Eliasberg, an ACLU attorney representing Mr. Tran. “It is ironic that only a few hours after the judge vindicated the rule of law and allowed Mr. Tran to engage in peaceful political speech, he became the victim of mob violence.”

“Mr. Tran displayed uncommon courage in pursuing his right to express his opinion through the legal system” Eliasberg added. “Those who oppose him by breaking the law obviously do not understand their responsibilities as citizens of a free society and a constitutional democracy.”

The shopping center had claimed that by displaying the picture and flag Mr. Tran had caused a public nuisance and thereby violated his lease. Today’s ruling clears the way for Mr. Tran to re-hang the picture and flag in his store.

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