blog: American flag ‘symbol’ reason why we burn it
“I believe our flag is more than just cloth and ink. It is a universally recognized symbol that stands for liberty, and freedom. It is the history of our nation, and it’s marked by the blood of those who died defending it.”- John Thune
The American flag represents hope, strength and the right to freedom.
Memorable images such as the U.S. Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima and Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong planting the flag on the moon reiterate the importance of this symbol throughout the country’s history.
It is precisely because of this importance as a symbol that protesters, such as those involved in the Jan. 30 Occupy Oakland protest, express their anger and disappointment in the country by burning this representation of American ideals.
Sociologist and Columbia University professor Todd Gitlin believes flag burning tends to tarnish peaceful protests, such as the Occupy protests.
“I’m quite confident that the general view is that of violence of this sort – whether it’s symbolic or otherwise – is contrary to the spirit of the movement and should be renounced,” Gitlin told the AP.
Since the flag is such a powerful symbol, should flag burning be protected by the First Amendment?
The fact that it is a powerful symbol is all the more reason for it to be protected.
The 1907 case of Halter v. Nebraska is one of the earliest rulings regarding flag desecration. Nebraska created a law in 1903 stating it was a crime to “sell, expose for sale, or have in possession for sale, any article of merchandise upon which shall have been printed or placed, for purposes of advertisement, a representation of the flag of the United States.”
Two years later, Halter, a bottling company owner, was charged for printing an American flag on a bottle of beer. After being convicted, the case was taken to the Supreme Court where the high court, in an 8-1 vote, upheld the conviction, stating Nebraska had the right to ban the desecration of the American flag, which ranged from any violent act against the flag to its use in commercial advertisements.
In a 1969 flag-burning case, the Supreme Court ruled that verbal disparagement against the flag is protected by the First Amendment, but the court did not directly address burning of the flag.
But 20 years later, the Supreme Court ruled in Texas v. Johnson that flag burning was protected, and effectively struck down laws in 48 states. The case involved Gregory Lee Johnson, who was convicted for burning the American flag outside the Republican National Convention as a protest to President Ronald Reagan’s policies. In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court overturned the conviction and agreed it was a right of free expression.
Despite Congress’ seven attempts to overrule the Supreme Court by passing a flag protection amendment, the strength of the safekeeping for freedom of expression continues to prevail.
Flag burning is offensive. It’s meant to be.
If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be an effective protest.
And while it is offensive, flag burning also gives us a sense of security that our freedom of expression is protected, which is really a protection of our democracy.
Domincan University, Humanities with concentration in communications