Desecrating the American Flag is Protected by the First Amendment, but Should it Be?


People who burn or otherwise desecrate the American flag are protected by the First Amendment, but should they be? Desecrating the flag of our country is an act that disturbs, insults, and even angers many Americans. But it is a legal act. In Texas v. Johnson (491 U.S. 397—1989) the Supreme Court ruled 7 to 3 that desecrating the American flag constituted “symbolic speech.” According to the Supreme Court, “symbolic speech” is protected by the First Amendment in the same way as actual speech. Writing for the dissent, Justice Stevens argued that the flag’s unique status as a symbol of unity outweighed concerns over “symbolic speech.” Thus, according to Stevens, the government could prohibit flag burning and other forms of desecration.

Justice Stevens spoke for a lot of Americans in Texas v. Johnson. Active duty military personnel who put their lives on the line for the flag find it disheartening to see it treated disrespectfully. Veterans who served under the American flag find its desecration offensive and even insulting. Mothers, fathers, and spouses who have seen their loved ones buried in coffins draped with the American flag find its desecration heartbreaking. Consequently, one can be forgiven for wondering if the Supreme Court got it wrong in this case. How important is it that flag desecration be protected? Are not the honor and sacrifices of military personnel and their families more important than some protestor’s right to burn the flag? Are there not other more appropriate and less hurtful ways that anti-American protestors could express their dissatisfaction?

Some readers will remember the 1960s when anti-war protestors burned and otherwise desecrated American flags on a regular basis. Flag burnings were a common sight on college campuses back then. In fact, student protests against the Viet Nam war were considered incomplete unless they culminated in some form of flag desecration. At the same time that these protests were taking place on college campuses, young men who did not have an opportunity to attend college were dying in rice paddies in Viet Nam. These young men came home draped in the same flag student protestors delighted in burning.
Read more at PatriotUpdate

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