Should burning the American Flag be considered symbolic speech, which therefore is protected by the First Amendment?
Burning the flag of the United States is a very controversial topic, but not enough light is shed on this important debate. An important question arises every so often questioning flag desecration and why it’s still legal, and time and time again it is answered with an unfortunate fact: It’s protected by the First Amendment (symbolic speech to be more specific). As of today, burning the flag is completely legal in accordance with free speech, and it’s important that others are free to express their right to speak out against the government. They say that it’s their way of protesting the government and that it’s just a piece of cloth, but this is where others misinterpret their actions. Most veterans support the passing of a constitutional amendment that allows Congress to ban the action of flag burning or desecration. They believe it is disrespecting them and what they fought and died for. However, some would make the case that it’s a slippery slope.
The idea of creating amendment to do something about this inappropriate action is nothing new. Before the Texas v. Johnson case of 1989 which made flag burning legal under the First Amendment, forty-eight out of the fifty states had installed flag protection laws similar to the Flag Protection Act passed by Congress in 1968. A 5-4 decision in the Texas v. Johnson case declared the Flag Protection Act an unconstitutional restriction of public expression. Again in 1990, the discussion was brought up in the cases of United States v. Eichman and United States v. Haggerty (argued together), and again it struck down the Flag Protection Act in a 5-4 decision, similar to the Texas v. Johnson case.
Each case in relation to flag burning proves that there is support for creating an amendment to ban the burning of the American flag. President Trump has stated in a tweet that there should be punishments for burning the flag. Though I agree that there should be some form of penalty, his terms are far too extreme. A moderate fine would be an acceptable form of punishment, but first comes the task of making the action illegal. As long as flag desecration is considered symbolic speech, it is protected under the First Amendment. However, if the action is done in the face of others such as former military members, it could be considered incitement and therefore the offender will face a penalty. In the end, this conflict is an internal struggle within the public. Even though some may not like it, it’s important to respect the rights of others. Nevertheless, the barrier between breaking the law and exercising your constitutional right is exceedingly fragile, ergo it’s important to distinguish between the two.
Mauro, Tony. "Burning the Flag: A Right Or a Wrong?"<i> USA TODAY</i>, 26 May 1998, pp. 1A-2A.<i> SIRS Issues Researcher</i>, <a href=”http://sks.sirs.com” target=”_blank”>http://sks.sirs.com</a>.
Hey, Robert P. "Push Persists to Protect Stars and Stripes."<i> Christian Science Monitor</i>, 19 Jul 2001,<i> SIRS Issues Researcher</i>, <a href=”http://sks.sirs.com” target=”_blank”>http://sks.sirs.com</a>.
“Facts And Case Summary – Texas V. Johnson”. United States Courts. N. p., 2017. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.
Tags: Symbolic Speech, First Amendment, Supreme Court, Flag Desecration, Incitement, President Trump