Like it or Not, Burning the American Flag Must be Legal


Let’s be honest; I think it is safe to say that most Americans do like to see our flag set ablaze. The American flag is a symbol of freedom, liberty, prosperity, and the sacrifices countless brave men and women who fought and died for this country.  among a multitude of other things that I believe should not be disrespected in the manner that some people choose such as burning. However, a completely different issue comes to the forefront when someone suggests that burning the American flag should be made illegal. The issue that obviously arises pertains to the 1st amendment, particularly our freedom of speech.  This is one of the core principles within one of the most complex documents ever written; one could even argue that the constitution set up the framework that has made America the greatest country in the world. There are some limitations to freedom of speech, but essentially Americans can say almost anything they want. In other countries around the world that is not possible. Take North Korea and China for example; China is an authoritarian regime that suppresses anyone opposing the communist regime in place while North Korea is the lone totalitarian regime left in the world. Some people do not have is at good as we do.

Now that I have put our right to freedom of speech into context, I want to talk about our presidential-elect Donald Trump suggesting that Americans whom burn the flag should be subject to imprisonment and/or loss of citizenship. Full disclosure, this is not the first time a high profile public official wanted to punish American flag burners; Hillary Clinton in 2005 co-sponsored a bill that would have made it illegal to burn the flag, resulting in a one-year jail sentence and a $100,000 fine. Fortunately, the bill never turned into law.

Honestly, I do not even know where to begin with this misguided belief. I have learned to take everything Trump says with a grain of salt, but we must take his words more seriously now that he is taking office this coming January. Therefore, that is exactly what I am going to do. Although I completely believe that Americans burning the flag is wrong, I do not agree with the act becoming illegal in the US. There is a clear reason that burning the flag is considered legal by the United States Supreme Court: it is considered free speech protected by the 1st amendment.

Antonin Scalia, the former Supreme Court justice (and hard-line Republican) even addressed the fact that burning the flag is protected by the 1st amendment. Texas v. Johnson, a case that reached the Supreme Court in 1989, addressed this dilemma and the ruling was that burning the flag constitutes a protected right by way of the 1st amendment. Scalia later said that he did not agree with flag burning, but the US Constitution trumps his personal views on the matter.

Scalia said: “If it were up to me, I would put in jail every sandal-wearing, scruffy-bearded weirdo who burns the American flag” but explained that he could/would not because “but I am not a king”.

Clearly, Scalia could have used better language, but his point was clear. This puts Trump at odds with the US Constitution and a Supreme Court justice that he has repeatedly praised. Whether or not this will actually happen will be determined when Trump takes office, but it is important to distinguish something one does not like and something that should be illegal. Yes, most people probably hate when others burn the American flag; however, in other countries people could be incarcerated or even killed if they took part in such an act. Is that what we as a country are going to resort to? I certainly hope not. The US is great because we can voice our opinions without fearing for our lives and we must not forget that.

One last thought to consider. The flag is only a symbol. It may be a symbol for some great things that are deserving of reverence, but it is still a symbol none the less. When someone is burning the flag in protest keep in mind that what they are actually doing is proving that the American ideal of liberty is alive and well. While they may think their act is insulting the USA, they are unintentionally epitomizing our country’s dedication to liberty. Regardless of your personal view on flag burning I ask you to think about the following question. Wouldn’t eliminating one of the main things that the flag is meant to symbolize (free speech) be even more un-American than burning the flag in protest? Physically destroying a symbol is trivial compared to eliminating the ideas that the symbol was meant to embody.

–Contributed by R.A.

-Edited by F.B.


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