Tag Archives: Constitution

Burning a Flag or Utilizing a Right?

 

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.

 

Works Cited:

Mauro, Tony. &quot;Burning the Flag: A Right Or a Wrong?&quot;<i> USA TODAY</i>, 26 May 1998, pp. 1A-2A.<i> SIRS Issues Researcher</i>, <a href=”http://sks.sirs.com&#8221; target=”_blank”>http://sks.sirs.com</a&gt;.

 

Hey, Robert P. &quot;Push Persists to Protect Stars and Stripes.&quot;<i> Christian Science Monitor</i>, 19 Jul 2001,<i> SIRS Issues Researcher</i>, <a href=”http://sks.sirs.com&#8221; target=”_blank”>http://sks.sirs.com</a&gt;.

 

“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

 

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Hate Speech vs. Free Speech

As of today, the First Amendment does not contain an exception for hate speech, meaning it is allowed and even protected under freedom of speech.  There is a limit to speech considered “fighting words,” or threats, but hate speech is not included because the First Amendment considers it to be merely an expression of opinion.  Many people believe that our Constitution should be altered to limit hate speech due to its potentially detrimental effects on the victims; however as of right now, any citizen has the right to express their hate as long as it doesn’t put others in danger.

One of the most recent cases involving hate speech is Phelps vs. Snyder, when Westboro Baptist Church protested at the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who had died in Iraq. The church strongly believes that God punishes the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality, especially within the military, so they often protest at military funerals with signs with phrases like “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “God Hates Fags.”  Matthew’s father, Albert Snyder, testified against the church with the claim that he is unable to separate the thoughts of his son’s death with the thoughts of the hateful protest, often getting physically ill just thinking about it.  After much consideration, the Supreme Court sided with the church on the premise that their protest is a matter of public concern expressed on public property, and therefore protected by the First Amendment.  Similarly, the members of the church have the right to communicate their ideas just as we all do.  

Although this is technically correct, many people still regard their protests as an act of lawlessness, and think the Westboro Baptist Church and its members should have taken responsibility for the repercussions on the Snyder family.  I think the Constitution should put some type of limitation on hate speech. Clearly not all of it can be restricted, as it would infringe on our citizens’ rights to expression, but I do believe some structure should be put in place. For example, with Albert Snyder and his physical disturbance caused by the protests.  Although legal, these assertions have caused pain for many people, and should therefore be outlawed under the First Amendment.

 

Works Cited:

 

Liptak, Adam. “Funeral Picketing Is Free Speech, Court Rules”. Nytimes.com. N. p., 2014. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

 

Volokh, Eugene. “No, There’S No “Hate Speech” Exception To The First Amendment”. Washington Post. N. p., 2017. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.

 

Citizens SLAPPed by Big Businesses

 

The United States Constitution grants every person the right to petition the government along with free speech. Yet, every year, thousands of individuals, community groups, and organizations are sued for exercising these constitutional rights. These lawsuits are known as “SLAPPs” (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation).  SLAPPs are often declared by corporations, real estate developers, or government officials against individuals or organizations who oppose them on public issues. Usually, SLAPPs are based on ordinary civil tort claims such as libel or slander, malicious prosecution, abuse of power, conspiracy, and interference with prospective economic advantage.

The difference between an ordinary defamation lawsuit and a SLAPP suit is that the plaintiff in a SLAPP suit does not generally plan to actually win their lawsuit. Instead, SLAPP suits are intended to intimidate, and discourage activists from exercising their right to free speech and protest. The main purpose of a SLAPP case is to decrease public debate on specific issues. Defending a SLAPP requires substantial money, time, and legal resources, and therefore diverts the defendant’s attention away from the public issue and/or forces them to discontinue the case. Furthermore, a SLAPP also sends a threatening message to others that they too can just as easily be sued if they speak up.

In one example of a SLAPP case was in Dallas, a $1 million lawsuit filed by a pet-sitting company against a couple who wrote a one-star review on Yelp. Prestigious Pets and its owner filed the lawsuit against the couple, accusing them of defamation, business disparagement and a breach of contract after the couple posted the negative review. The case was eventually dismissed due to an Anti-SLAPP law that allows judges to dismiss frivolous suits filed against people who speak out about a matter of public concern. This is just one illustration of how businesses or dominant people can use their power to try to keep citizens from exercising their first amendment rights if it could tarnish their image.

I believe that SLAPP cases violate the first amendment because big businesses are prohibiting the public from exercising their right to free speech by suing them and using the power of the court system along with their own money to silence public opinions. SLAPP cases are just a way for people or corporations to hold their own interests above public interest and protect themselves from any criticism or opposition. Freedom of speech is important because it allows people to form and share opinions that may be different from others. Because SLAPP suits limit the first amendment, I believe that they should be outlawed or at least highly regulated in order to prevent businesses from punishing citizens simply because they exercise their first amendment rights to disagree or speak out against them.

 

“Examples Of SLAPP Suits In Texas”. Slapped In Texas, 2011, https://slappedintexas.com/examples-of-slapp-suits-in-texas/.

 

“Jarrow Formulas, Inc. V. Lamarche”. California Anti-SLAPP Project, 2011, https://www.casp.net/california-anti-slapp-first-amendment-law-resources/caselaw/california-supreme-court/jarrow-formulas-inc-v-lamarche/.

 

“SLAPP Suits | Civil Liberties Defense Center”. Cldc.Org, 2017, https://cldc.org/organizing-resources/slapp-suits/.