Wed. Jun 12th, 2024

By Donna Westfall – December 15, 2016 – Burn the flag, go to jail. That’s in some countries. Here are a few examples:

  1. In Argentina you could get one-four years in prison.
  2. In China, up to three years.
  3. France six months.
  4. Germany, a maximum of five years.
  5. Israel, up to three years
  6. Italy, up to two years
  7. Philippines, no more than one year
  8. Portugal, up to one year
  9. Switzerland, up to three years

In the United states in 1984, Gregory Lee Johnson, then a member of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, burned an American flag outside of the convention center where the Republican National Convention was being held in Dallas, Texas. The flag was stolen from a building and handed to him.  He poured gasoline over it and set it on fire. He was there protesting the policies of President Ronald Reagan. He was arrested and charged under Texas law for desecration of a venerated object.  He was found guilty.  The case went before the Supreme Court and in a 5 to 4 vote, they voted on whether or not flag burning constitutes “symbolic speech” protected by the First Amendment.

Their answer, “YES.”

The dissent written by Justice Stevens argued that the flag “is more than a proud symbol of the courage, the determination, and the gifts of nature that transformed 13 fledgling Colonies into a world power. It is a symbol of freedom, of equal opportunity, of religious tolerance, and of good will for other peoples who share our aspirations. … The value of the flag as a symbol cannot be measured.”

Thus the Supreme Court decided not once, but twice (1989 and 1990) that it was a protected part of the First Amendment.

Before 1989, people defacing or burning the American flag could be hit with a fine and jail time.

When soldiers came back from Vietnam, they were spit upon, yelled at and humiliated.

Betsy Ross Flag
Betsy Ross Flag

Protester’s to the Vietnam war often burned our flag. Young men and women who had never fought in a war thought it was appropriate to disgrace those that did because it was an unpopular war. However, they were not the only protesters burning flags.

In Seattle, Washington on October 29, 1989, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, burned flags while singing the national anthem minutes after a federal law prohibiting desecration of the flag took effect. They cited that the new law was an attempt to ram patriotism down their throat.

After the November 8, 2016 election, disgruntled people were out burning flags when Trump won the Presidential race.

However, in 2005, then Senator Hillary Clinton introduced a bill that would have outlawed flag burning – with punishments of a fine and jail time. It was called the “Flag Protection Act of 2005.” The law was never considered or passed.

Since then, Congress has considered the Flag Desecration Amendment several times. The amendment usually passes the House of Representatives, but has always been defeated in the Senate. The most recent attempt occurred when it failed by one vote on June 27, 2006.

Recently in The Federalist Papers Project, written by President-Elect Donald Trump is calling for “consequences” for burning the American flag, in spite of two Supreme Court rulings protecting burning the flag as a form of free speech.

Per Trump, “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag — if they do, there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”

Even Supreme Court Judge Scalia, personally did not approve of flag burning, yet voted to keep it protected under the 1st Amendment rights.

It’s far more understandable to see foreigners burning the American flag in other parts of the world. It’s harder for the majority of Americans to watch citizens burn our flag on US land.  In some countries like Denmark, they allow burning of their national flag, but not for foreign flags, the UN or Council of Europe.  Their Parliament decided that burning a foreign flag could be construed as a threat.





2 thoughts on “FLAG BURNING: Desecration or Freedom of Speech? Part 1”
  1. Trump has been elected to the Executive branch of government. He can think what he wants. He can disagree with current laws. He has no legal right to change laws or create new laws. That is the responsibility of the Legislative branch of government.
    Each citizen needs to know our freedom depends on the Constitution Of The United States (OTUS) remaining intact. I found the following explanation of the three branches of government concise and easy to understand. It is offered by the U.S. Government.

    How the U.S. Government Is Organized
    The Constitution of the United States divides the federal government into three branches to ensure a central government in which no individual or group gains too much control:

    Legislative – Makes laws (Congress)
    Executive – Carries out laws (President, Vice President, Cabinet)
    Judicial – Evaluates laws (Supreme Court and Other Courts)
    Each branch of government can change acts of the other branches as follows:

    The president can veto laws passed by Congress.
    Congress confirms or rejects the president’s appointments and can remove the president from office in exceptional circumstances.
    The justices of the Supreme Court, who can overturn unconstitutional laws, are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
    The U.S. federal government seeks to act in the best interests of its citizens through this system of checks and balances.

    Legislative Branch
    The legislative branch enacts legislation, confirms or rejects presidential appointments, and has the authority to declare war.

    This branch includes Congress (the Senate and House of Representatives) and several agencies that provide support services to Congress. American citizens have the right to vote for senators and representatives through free, confidential ballots.

    Senate – There are two elected senators per state, totaling 100 senators. A senate term is six years and there’s no limit to the number of terms an individual can serve.
    House of Representatives – There are 435 elected representatives, which are divided among the 50 states in proportion to their total population. There are additional non-voting delegates who represent the District of Columbia and the territories. A representative serves a two-year term, and there’s no limit to the number of terms an individual can serve.
    Executive Branch
    The executive branch carries out and enforces laws. It includes the president, vice president, the Cabinet, executive departments, independent agencies, and other boards, commissions, and committees.

    American citizens have the right to vote for the president and vice president through free, confidential ballots.

    Key roles of the executive branch include:

    President – The president leads the country. He/she is the head of state, leader of the federal government, and commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces. The president serves a four-year term and can be elected no more than two times.
    Vice President – The vice president supports the president. If the president is unable to serve, the vice president becomes president. He/she can serve an unlimited number of four-year terms.
    The Cabinet – Cabinet members serve as advisors to the president. They include the vice president and the heads of executive departments. Cabinet members are nominated by the president and must be approved by the Senate (with at least 51 votes).
    Judicial Branch
    The judicial branch interprets the meaning of laws, applies laws to individual cases, and decides if laws violate the Constitution.

    The judicial branch is comprised of the Supreme Court and other federal courts.

    Supreme Court – The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. The justices of the Supreme Court are nominated by the president and must be approved by the Senate (with at least 51 votes). Congress decides the number of justices. Currently, there are nine. There is no fixed term for justices. They serve until their death, retirement, or removal in exceptional circumstances.
    Other Federal Courts – The Constitution grants Congress the authority to establish other federal courts.
    Do you need help?
    Ask us any question about the U.S. government for free. We’ll get you the answer, or we’ll tell you where to find it.

    Chat with

  2. It’s settled law. SCOTUS says it is legal to burn the flag. Now SCOTUS should make it legal to punch anyone that is burning the flag.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *