By Donna Westfall – December 15, 2016 – Burn the flag, go to jail. That’s in some countries. Here are a few examples:
- In Argentina you could get one-four years in prison.
- In China, up to three years.
- France six months.
- Germany, a maximum of five years.
- Israel, up to three years
- Italy, up to two years
- Philippines, no more than one year
- Portugal, up to one year
- 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.
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 byPresident-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.