I once asked three of my more left-leaning friends how they feel about burning the American flag. My argument was that there is a fine line in free speech that shouldn’t be crossed, while theirs was that no matter how unsettling, it is ultimately a right that should remain protected by the First Amendment. In any case, the legal status of flag burning is a hotly contested issue that only creates division and discord in our communities, so what should be done about it?
Flag burning has been brought into question numerous times before. President Trump was not quiet on the issue, once writing in a post on Twitter that flag burners should be punished by revoking their citizenship or spending up to a year in jail. In 2005, Hillary Clinton cosponsored the Flag Protection Act, which would have in theory made flag burning illegal nationwide.
The way I see it, the burning of the American flag is an act of extreme depravity that should be condemned by anyone, not just the law. Whether you realize it or not, the flag harbors a vast meaning that’s difficult to grasp by most people. When burned, it communicates that you do not care about your country, and disregards the millions of people who have fought and died for the rights and liberties that you, the offender, are benefitting from. Though it is an extension of free speech that is “technically” protected by Amendment I of the Constitution, its implications are much deeper than protesting the government or voicing outrage.
But let’s say that isn’t your intention. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you’re burning the American flag because you’re upset with the way the country is being run, so you’re providing a commentary on government ineptitude. Perhaps you’re even upset with the results of this past election. In either or those cases, isn’t there a better approach to take? Isn’t there another, more intelligent and eloquent way that you could deliver your message without directing your hate toward your own country? Because regardless of your intention, the act of flag burning is intrinsically a display of hatred towards one’s own country. It’s that simple.
So yes, in this one man’s honest opinion, flag burning should be outlawed because there are limits to free speech, such as incitements of violence to meet political ends, false statements of fact, and claiming another’s speech as one’s own (i.e., plagiarism). The disregard and desecration of the memories of our fallen heroes should fall under this category. At the very least, those who perform the act of flag burning should incur a minute penalty and at most, a complete revoke of citizenship and jail time.
Because there are only two arguments to the issue of flag burning (you either believe it should be outlawed or not), you might disagree with me. If so, why do you believe it should remain legal, other than because it’s protected by the First Amendment?