Column: Trump can’t take right to burn American flag


Mia Sinha, Opinions Editor

On Tuesday Nov. 29, President-elect Donald J. Trump tweeted “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” This tweet received as much backlash as is to be expected. The issue of flag burning has been a reoccurring topic since the 1960s. The latest Supreme Court flag burning case, Texas vs Johnson deemed burning flags to be protected under the “Freedom of speech” part of the US Constitution’s First Amendment. Although the act of burning a flag is not speech, it is considered “symbolic speech.”

Since flag burning has been a highly debated topic, his stance was not outlandish. However, Trump took it too far, suggesting a loss of citizenship penalty for it. This is a ridiculous proposal, seeing as there are currently only seven ways for Americans to lose citizenship and they all involve performing acts with the immediate intention of losing US nationality. What gets me is that Trump sees burning a flag as such an extreme that its punishment should be banishment, when there are much worse crimes, like rape and murder for instance.

His second proposal of punishment is a year in jail, which is not nearly as nonsensical as  expatriation, yet still raises concern because one should not be jailed for expressing their first amendment rights. There are many reasons people burn their nation’s flag, but for the most part it is because they are in disagreement with how they are being governed and want to show their disdain. On the other hand when a flag touches the ground it is often ceremonial to burn the flag out of “respect.”

I’m sure Trump didn’t have ceremonial flag burning in mind when he tweeted this, but in both cases the American flag is still set aflame. The difference between the two is that one is performed with intentional disrespect and the other is performed with intentional respect. This in mind respect and disrespect should never be punished by law, as again it is a form of expression which is protected by the First Amendment. Unless Trump wants to be king of the land by taking away First Amendment rights and excommunicating those who disrespect him and his nation, nothing will be done about Trumps sophomoric flag burning proposals.