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A university student was charged with burning the U.S. flag in a fire that charred more than two acres of woodland in northern Virginia. Oleg S. Asserin, 18, of Falls Church, Va., was arrested Tuesday on a felony charge of setting a fire capable of spreading and a misdemeanor charge of burning the U.S. flag. Virginia is among 48 states that still have flag desecration laws on the books, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that flag burning is constitutionally protected speech. Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Horan said Friday he will decide whether to pursue the flag-burning charge after he reviews the case. “We’ll wait and see what the facts are,” Horan said. Firefighters from Fairfax County and neighboring Montgomery County, Md., responded to the fire Sunday morning. It burned more than two acres of brush near the George Washington Memorial Parkway before it was extinguished. Firefighters found a charred American flag among the damage. Fire department spokesman Dan Schmidt said authorities checked medical facilities and found Asserin receiving treatment for burns on his arms and upper body. Fire officials said they did not believe Asserin was expressing support for recent terrorist acts. The motivation for the burning was unclear. Asserin, who is Russian, attends George Mason University. A message left at the school’s public relations office was not returned late Friday. At his arraignment, Asserin was ordered held pending a psychiatric evaluation. A preliminary hearing is Dec. 12. Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, said the flag-burning law, enacted in 1960, is unconstitutional and that the ACLU will seek to have the charge dismissed if prosecutors don’t drop it. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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