Flag Burning: A Showing of American Liberty

Written by Cassidy Connell

Edited by Morgan DeLisle

Editor’s Note: This article is a defense of flag burning. You can read a critique of flag burning by clicking the link.

 

The American flag symbolizes the beliefs and history of our nation. The red and white stripes represent the first thirteen colonies and the fifty stars stand for the fifty states of the Union. Even our national anthem declares our love for the banner that flies over the “land of the free and home of the brave.” Full disclosure, I do not support burning the flag. In my opinion, it is a distasteful form of voicing your views. American men and women dedicate their lives, abroad and at home, to defending the liberties the flag embodies. With that established, however, I do think it crucial that the right to burn the flag is protected. As contradictory as it may seem, my disapproval of the act does not negate my belief in it being allowed.

The debate on the burning of the American flag heightens emotions and attempts to draw a line in the sand between those who are patriotic and those who are not. Unfortunately, as with most controversial subjects, it is not as simple as it may seem.

The flag symbolizes unity and strength for the American people; a signal of solidarity that prompts national pride and encouragement. Recently, select groups have decided to take this symbol and transform it into a publicly visible demonstration of frustration and disappointment with something or someone. For these groups, the preferred use of the flag is its destruction through burning.

 

To understand why this form of protest is currently protected, it is necessary to note why the Supreme Court of the United States deemed it legal in 1984.  In Texas, Gregory Johnson burned the American flag to protest President Ronald Reagan at a rally. The state of Texas then arrested Johnson and found him guilty of desecrating a “venerated” item. The Supreme Court heard his appeal and found him not guilty. They found that burning the flag was not illegal and instead was protected through the free speech category within the First Amendment. This case is well known as Texas v. Johnson and is utilized in various disputes on free speech.

An important component of the Supreme Court’s decision included that public outrage is not a strong enough reason to limit the speech of others. The majority found that to bar the burning of the flag would discriminate based on viewpoint. To many, this ruling undermines the respect and dignity of our flag. It is easy to see this as an attack on American values but, in reality, it reinforces the foundation of our freedom.

 

Allowing the burning of American flags ironically underscores the freedom and liberties our nation treasures. The very fact that you can carry on with such antics points to the greatness of a nation not afraid to have citizens who voice dissent or disapproval. As Americans, we may not all agree with what you say, but we protect your right to say it.

When we begin to censor or define what the free speech entails, we risk endangering the essence of the First Amendment itself. It may be viewed as un-American to burn the flag, but it is far more unpatriotic to compromise our core beliefs. To ban the burning of the flag desecrates the sanctity of what it stands for.

Let us remain a country that preserves our pledge to ensure “…liberty and justice for all.”

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