Freedom of Speech: Flag Burning

Table of Content

Flag burning has been one of the most controversial forms of nonviolent protests. It is often linked with the Middle East and Hezbollah with depictions of Arabs against President Bush burning the American flag. Americans are intimidated and threatened by this action, but that does not make it illegal. Supreme Court rulings have upheld that peaceful flag desecration is a form of political speech that should be protected by our Constitution (Flag Burning Myths). This decision is the most logical. Even with all of the disruption this act may cause, flag burning should not be banned.

Before even arguing to keeps the laws the way they are, take a look at the logic that is presented. The Boy Scouts are responsible for disposing of ruined or soiled flags. The only appropriate and respectful way to dispose of the American flag is to burn it (Apel). Now, when hippie protesters burn the flag the only difference is the thought. Is it logical to be distraught about bad thoughts? Bad thoughts mean nothing if there isn’t any action or violence behind them. The First Amendment protects our speech and forms of expression and it is considered one of the most important Amendments.

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Flag burning is considered, as far as the Supreme Court is concerned, as a form of expression. No matter how offensive it may be, people can freely burn a flag to express their emotions and to permit otherwise would be a “suppression of speech” (Apel). Ironically, on the same terms, the First Amendment can bring punishment. The “knowing desecration [of the American flag] for the purpose of creating a breach of peace of creating immediate danger” (Flag Burning) is liable to be punished. Bad intentions ruffle the government’s feathers and bring up red flags for national security, but public display of your opinions is acceptable.

The controversy of the legality of flag desecration was taken to the Supreme Court. Gregory Johnson burned an American flag in 1984 at the “Republican National Convention” (Flag Burning) to show his political protest against the Reagan policies (Oyez). Johnson was punished by having to serve a one year jail sentence and a fine for two thousand dollars (Oyez). After he paid his fine and served his jail time, he took his case to the Supreme Court where it was fount that desecration of the flag was protected as a freedom of expression under the First Amendment (Oyez).

This was the landmark case that defined flag burning and the Courts logically stated “that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable” (Oyez). Flag burning is not intended to represent violence; that is not to be confused with protest. There needs to be a proper time, place and valid reason to show support for a certain view. There should be little to no tollerance for “attempts to incite voilence and create a hostile environment” (When Hezbollah). A person cannot go with irrational anger to shove his two-cents down the throats of all the surrounding people.

Flag burning is to be thought of more as a demonstration to attract attention and spread around an ucommon thought reather than a disruption in society. A large group of people have correlating opinions with the world-reknownd transcendentalist author Hendry David Thoreau. Thoreau states in his work Civil Disobedience that “all men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegience to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable” (Thoreau 88). Paranoia is definitely an obstable within the government.

What if the protester becomes violent? Why should we even allow him to begin his demonstration? One might look at a possible event and say “What if someone burned a flag and it triggered a war”? Granted, that situation could very well happen with the low tolerance that is continuing to grow, but it is not valid that the only trigger of the war would be the flag. Ther must be other previous issues that have been unreolved and big enough that people would be willing to fight for them. By this prevelant paranoia approach, the government could easily overstep its bounds and restrict more than just flag burning.

This would, in turn, cause a revolt against the government and not the support that the government is looking for. Passing an amendment to protect the flag would be a harsh insult to all the veterans who fought so hard to uphold the freedoms that flag represents. Because we are fortunate enough to live in a free country, it is expected that occasionally we will be offended by others exercising their rights to free expression. Countries that are not free, such as Afghanistan or China, would promptly arrest citizens for burning their country’s flag. Allowing flag desecration as an offensive protest is what makes America a truly free country.

Not only would a law against flag desecration be against the idea of a free country, it would be impossible to enforce. In order to prevent any possible banning of flag burning, it must be recognized that flag burning does not equate to violence. There also must be a time, place and reason to burn a flag in support of a cause. Any attempt at violence that comes from the protester could then be charged for improper use of his freedom. Taking on the mindset of showing “civil disobedience” (Thoreau 85) is the correct way to display an opposition to a current policy. Our freedoms are not to be taken advantage of, yet our opinions are not to be silenced.

Works Cited

  1. Apel, Warren S. “The Flag Burning Page. ” 22 April 2008 .
  2. “Flag Burning. ” University of Missouri-Kansas City. 2001.
  3. Exploring Constitutional Law. 15 April 2008 . “Flag Burning Myths and Realities. “
  4. Rights and Liberties. 2008. People For the American Way. 16 April 2008.  Oyez Project. Texas v. Johnson. 491 U. S. 397 (1989). 22 April 2008 .


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Freedom of Speech: Flag Burning. (2018, Mar 09). Retrieved from

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