I’m absolutely sickened by President-elect Donald J. Trump’s assertion that flag-burners should lose their citizenship or spend one year in jail. The very idea of depriving a person of something as precious as citizenship or stripping away their liberty for expressing dissent is absolutely un-American and a grave insult to the United States Constitution.
The issue was decided in 1989 by the United States Supreme Court. In Texas v. Johnson, the Court found that flag burning is a form of “symbolic speech” protected by the First Amendment. “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable,” Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., wrote in the Court’s majority opinion.
Congress subsequently passed the Flag Protection Act of 1989, which prohibited burning or desecrating the flag. Lawmakers tried to sidestep the court’s decision by making no reference to the flag-burner’s motive, since that was what lead to the downfall of the Texas ban. It didn’t work. The following year, in United States v. Eichman, the Court overturned the law using the same rationale as before.
Recently, I attended an anti-Trump protest in downtown Salt Lake City. It was quite a sight to behold — hundreds of civic-minded, mostly young, Utahns exercising their right to protest. Unlike many similar events that took place throughout the country, protests in Salt Lake City were peaceful and devoid of violence. As the march concluded on the steps of the Utah State Capitol, a brave Weber State University student named Crystal Hall set an American flag ablaze. While not present for this part of the evening (the final stretch of the hike to the People’s House is murder on my legs, so I bailed out at State and North Temple streets), I later viewed images and video coverage on social media.
[pullquote]Banning or strongly discouraging flag-burning sets us on the short path to fascism.[/pullquote]Hall and her fellow protesters were subjected to large volleys of criticism in the days and weeks that followed. People said that all the protesters should just “accept” the election outcome. Some also charged that flag-burning is disrespectful to veterans and there should legal ramifications for those who participate in such an act. Hall even received death threats.
This whole “shut up and salute” mentality is quite off-putting. One of my favorite presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower, wisely pointed out something that everyone would do well to remember: “Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels – men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.” Civil disobedience is indeed one of the most patriotic acts a citizen can perform, right next to military service and voting. The United States of America was founded on the backs of protestors who dared to stand up for the advancement of freedom and democracy.
[pullquote]The issue was decided in 1989 by the United States Supreme Court. In Texas v. Johnson, the Court found that flag burning is a form of “symbolic speech” protected by the First Amendment.[/pullquote]Throughout our country’s history, veterans have also played a crucial role. Thanks to their selfless service defending the United States, the First Amendment is still in effect. And I am most appreciative of them. So, in honor of the many sacrifices that have been made through the years to preserve the right to protest, simply staying home and watching the umpteenth season of “Dancing with the Stars” while Trump and his minions run roughshod over our values is not an option for any of us. Like it or not, flag-burning is an accepted form of protest. In a perfect world, situations could be resolved without the occurrence of something as divisive as flag-burning. But, alas, the world is far from perfect. I think we should be more concerned about the events that necessitated such an incident.
Banning or strongly discouraging flag-burning sets us on the short path to fascism. Today flag-burning is the menace, tomorrow who knows? Do we want to be a country where having a mind of your own is viewed as a negative thing that must be excised? I truly hope not.
From The Writer’s Desk is a feature from Utah Political Capitol that gives our writers an opportunity to express their opinions on the events of the day. Writer Op-Eds do not necessarily reflect the opinions of UPC or its staff.