Flag Burning – An act of free speech or a crime

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?

Should it be illegal to burn the American flag?

9 Comments
  • Pingback:Free Speech: A Range of Interpretations | Pearltrees
    Posted at 14:32h, 04 March Reply

    […] is a hybrid in that it partakes of both thought and action. Flag Burning – An act of free speech or a crime – VA.org. “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag — if they do, there must be consequences […]

  • claudiu g
    Posted at 22:39h, 26 February Reply

    Despite of all the opinions here , and i respect to them , I absolutely believe that when it comes to the flag , burning , desecrating , or defacing it should be a felony and punishable by law . Freedom of speech or expression should have limits , of common sense , respect of others , and respect for the millions that lost their life and their families in order to fly that flag high .The flag does not have only a political meaning and it does not belong to any one person , it represents a nation …united

  • SL
    Posted at 21:43h, 12 February Reply

    The American flag is not anyone’s property. It is the property of the people, and therefore the people have the right to do what they wish with it.

    Additionally, the first amendment does not protect only free speech. It gives the freedom of the press, religion, petition, and assembly. Simply put, it grants the right for anyone to express themselves in a peaceful way. Flag burning is relatively peaceful, considering the fact that our ancestors did far worse to protest the British rule. Like it or not, flag burning is clearly protected by the first amendment.

  • Robert
    Posted at 20:01h, 19 December Reply

    A guy in Ames Ia was just sentenced to 16 years in jail for burning a gay pride flag. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/man-sentenced-to-16-years-in-prison-for-burning-churchs-pride-flag
    If it were an American flag it would have been OK…. how does that make sense???

    • Chad
      Posted at 03:26h, 16 January Reply

      Well, it’s still illegal to destroy other people’s property. And since his vandalism was motivated by prejudice, he racked up a hate crime too.
      16 years though…..that’s one helluva sentence

  • kb
    Posted at 17:19h, 02 December Reply

    I’m researching this topic for a civics assignment, and I think that while it should be at least prohibited, it shouldn’t be illegal to burn the American Flag.People may be offended at a politician or someone else, and could burn the flag to symbolize what they think will happen if that person or group is in charge or something.

  • E
    Posted at 19:55h, 28 October Reply

    It should remain legal.

    I don’t think that the government should be allowed to punish a citizen for political expression that they, or the general public disagree with. The point of having rights, under the constitution, is to limit what the government can do to you. One of those rights is freedom of speech. Government doesn’t have to give you a microphone, but they shouldn’t be allowed to take it from you either.

  • Thomas Schneider
    Posted at 01:34h, 03 October Reply

    Crime !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Sue
    Posted at 03:09h, 25 July Reply

    A crime. Free speech does not cover destroying our property.

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