Donald Trump Says Flag-burners Should Face Imprisonment or Lose Their Citizenship

Tommy Conroy, Staff Writer

President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday, November 29, to claim that he believed those who burn the American flag should face punishment- either a year in prison, or a loss of citizenship.

The exact Tweet reads as follows: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”

Now, even when it’s used as a form of protest, it’s safe to say that the vast majority of Americans find the burning of our flag offensive. However, it is important to make note that our First Amendment rights do not exclude what we deem offensive or reprehensible, so long as said acts don’t bring harm to anyone else or infringe on their own personal freedoms. Burning the American flag in protest may seem distasteful or downright insulting, but its still an expression of freedom of speech. Among the people who would agree with this statement is deceased Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia, who Trump has praised on many occasions, might I add.

“Yes, if I were king, I — I would not allow people to go about burning the American flag. However, we have a First Amendment, which says that the right of free speech shall not be abridged. And it is addressed, in particular, to speech critical of the government. I mean, that was the main kind of speech that tyrants would seek to suppress. Burning the flag is a form of expression. Speech doesn’t just mean written words or oral words. It could be semaphore. And burning a flag is a symbol that expresses an idea,” Judge Scalia said.

This statement was made way back in 1989. For context, the Supreme Court was ruling on the case of Gregory Joey Johnson, a man who burned an American flag in front of the 1984 Republican Convention in protest of then-President Ronald Reagan’s policies. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of burning the flag in protest being a constitutional right. Judge Scalia was one of the five majority.

The late Judge Scalia is not the only person who has supported flag-burning as a constitutional right. Trump himself did.

In 2015, as a guest on the January 8 recording of Late Night With David Letterman, Trump and Letterman discussed the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. Letterman then brought up that one of the reasons he is proud to be an American is that we can burn our own flag without penalty because our freedom of speech is protected.

“Sure. You’re 100 percent right,” Trump said in response. “I understand where you’re coming from. It’s terrific.”

Of course, that was almost two years ago. Our President-elect’s opinion on the matter surely could have changed since then. However, that doesn’t change the blatant error in his words this past Tuesday.

One of our great American values is our right to freedom of speech. And so long as one’s freedom of speech doesn’t infringe on someone else’s, it is protected by our Constitution. Flag-burning may aggravate you or make you feel sick, but it is merely someone else’s way of expressing their constitutional rights. As Judge Scalia said, dissenting speech against the government is the very speech that tyrants wish to stomp out.

I myself believe that flag-burning is an ineffectual means of protesting. Yet, despite that, I will absolutely say that people should have a right to do it as a form of expression. Freedom of speech doesn’t exclude opinions or beliefs or, in this case, demonstrations that you disagree with.

Furthermore, to put it bluntly, at the end of the day an American flag is simply a fancy piece of cloth. Burning the flag may seem to you as defacing everything it stands for (freedom, equality, and justice for all) but I’d argue that those principles are strong enough to withstand the destruction of their symbolic anchor. Ironically, Trump himself would be the one defacing our American principles if he were to put into motion any legislature outlawing flag-burning.