Welcome to the newest edition of The Why. “Why is it legal to burn an American flag?” you ask? Good question. Timely too. (OK, it wasn’t really “timely” we just held on to it figuring it would fly better around Flag Day, mmmkay?)
It’s legal to burn an American flag because this is America, baby. Check the history books. On June 11, 1990, the Supreme Court declared that laws against desecrating the flag are unconstitutional.
(Mind you, any non-citizens burning the American flag should be soundly thrashed and instantly deported. Any foreign countries that burn the American flag get cut off and their debts instantly become due. . . or we could bomb them to glass but–hey–they might have something we want, ya know?)
Let’s get back on track though, shall we? Lily Rothman online contributor to TIME confirms this: “It was shortly before the Fourth of July in 1989—two centuries after the Constitution of the United States took effect—when the Supreme Court declared that the government could not stop citizens from desecrating the nation’s flag.”
Walter Isaacson, also from TIME, addressed the issue some time ago. He stated: “The patriotic mind recoils. Reverence for the flag is ingrained in every schoolchild who has quailed at the thought of letting it touch the ground, in every citizen moved by pictures of it being raised at Iwo Jima or planted on the moon, in every veteran who has ever heard taps played at the end of a Memorial Day parade, in every gold-star mother who treasures a neatly folded emblem of her family’s supreme sacrifice.”
He also agreed that that was exactly why the court, in the case Texas v. Johnson, decided that state and federal laws that protect the flag are actually in violation of free-speech protections. The flag is special because it stands for the land of the free. That freedom, however, includes the right to use or even burn that flag.
Emotionally it’s hard to grasp. The legislative branch of our government didn’t even get it and tried to stop it when they passed the Flag Protection Act of 1989, which made it a crime to desecrate the flag for any reason. Which led to flag-burning protests the Supreme Court once again ruling—as Rothman confirms—“that burning the flag was an example of constitutionally protected free speech.”
The bottom line is Americans need to practice what they preach when it comes to free speech. If that means putting up with what Rothman calls “the glorious discomforts” of “the antics of flag burners or the lyrics of 2 Live Crew or the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe”, so be it. (One does wonder, however, if mentioning assassination and President Obama in the same sentence still gets the Secret Service crawling all over you.) God bless America.
Why is it legal to burn an American flag? Now you know.
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