21 Jan Flag Burning – An act of free speech or a crime
“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag — if they do, there must be consequences — perhaps a loss of citizenship or year in jail!” – Donald Trump.
President Trump has made up his mind when it comes to flag burning. The United States of America is still debating this controversial issue. The first mentions of demeaning a national symbol date back to 1907. In the case of Halter v. Nebraska. The court stated that a business cannot sell beer with flag labels on the bottles. In 1968, Federal Flag Desecration Law was passed making acts like publicly mutilating, defacing, defiling, burning or trampling of the American flag as illegal, which was then later revoked. In 1974, in Spence v. Washington, the court stated that a person cannot be convicted for sticking a peace sign on an American Flag implying such an act to be protected expression under the First Amendment.
The first sparks flew when in 1984, Gregory Lee Johnson broke state law by burning a flag at the Republican Convention in Dallas. Johnson was fined and sentenced to one year in prison. On June 21, 1989, United States Supreme Court voted 5-4 in favor of Johnson considering his actions as symbolic speech.
Justice Antonin Scalia, later, expressed his views in a public event.
“If it were up to me, I would put in jail every sandal-wearing, scruffy-bearded weirdo who burns the American flag,” Scalia said at a November 2015 event in Philadelphia. “But I am not king.”
President Donald Trump’s proposal of a penalty which includes jail time or loss of citizenship for burning the flag received heavy criticism. Steve Vladeck, a renowned Professor at the University of Texas Law School, stated that Trump’s idea that citizens possibly be expatriated as a discipline is not a plausible solution.
“In addition to ignoring the Supreme Court’s clear teaching that flag burning is constitutionally protected speech, Mr. Trump’s tweet also casually suggests that citizens should lose their citizenship as a ‘penalty’ for such acts,” Vladeck said. “Even if flag burning weren’t protected, it would still be unconstitutional to deprive someone of their citizenship without some voluntary act on their part to renounce their allegiance to the United States or pledge fealty to a foreign sovereign.”
There is a clear distinction between authentic and forced patriotism. Flag burning and desecration is undoubtedly offensive, but it is political in nature. The best manner to fight a political expression is to express disapproval rather than banning the expression itself. If we allow Congress to decide what is acceptable under the right of free speech, it defies the purpose of the constitution and the First Amendment. Even the courts agree when it comes to the expression of free speech. Every citizen can express their anguish or pain through an act of free expression until it is not hurting someone physically or damaging tangible property.
However, certain acts are so condemnable in nature that there is no other way than to altogether ban the activity. To quote such an example – burning of Quran is forbidden as it can lead to hurtful sentiments and disrupt national peace. Similarly, the American flag is a holy symbol representing what we as a country stand for. If we allow burning of our national symbols, it can pave a pathway of hatred and a blatant rejection of government institutions. Our soldiers have sacrificed their lives and are still fighting as we speak to protect the freedom and integrity which our flag represents. Flag burning shatters the morale of armed forces for whom the nation is not just a piece of land but a sacred place and flag, not a piece of cloth but a holy symbol representing their belief.
Burning a flag is a mindset and not just a problem. We need to find a better way to deal with such a complex issue. What do you think?