Since the Supreme Court has decided that freedom of speech may at times be restricted, the question arises, should such freedom be restricted when it comes to flag burning? An example of such an action would be an angry mob of people who wish to protest a recent decision by the government by burning the flag. Some people state that the government should ban this form of protest. Others staunchly insist this form of expression should not be outlawed. This freedom should not be restricted.
Matt Nagin (2012), a writer for the online news platform policymic, states that “opponents of flag burning speak about it as if the protesters were destroying the national character and/or desecrating the one and only Mona Lisa”. Many citizens quite understandably take offense at the thought or mention of burning the flag. This may at times be especially true with individuals who have served in the military, or their family members; since they can personally attest to the cost of defending freedom or the safety of a nation, flag burning can be especially hurtful or offensive.
In spite of this, the freedom to protest via burning of the flag is protected by law. The most recent occurrence of when the Supreme Court had to re-establish this was in 1989, in the case of Texas vs. Johnson. According to an article posted online by a website known as the Law Library, Gregory Lee Johnson had been convicted of “desecrating a venerated object in violation of Texas Penal Code section 42.09(a) (3)”. He had been given a fine of two thousand dollars and a sentence of a year in prison. Fortunately, his conviction was reversed by the Supreme Court. That same article went on to say, “The Free Speech Clause, the court ruled, forbids the government from establishing an orthodox symbol of national unity that is insulated from public criticism, symbolic or otherwise”.
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So the Supreme Court has recognized that although the flag may represent the values and principles of the American nation, those very same values allow and protect the freedom of people to protest peacefully, even if it may evoke offense or anger in others. To put it another way, the government will not ban or outlaw the burning of the flag as a peaceful means of protest, but it will not overstep its’ bounds by banning others’ rights to object peacefully as well to such a demonstration. To put it more bluntly, in the words of Ed Earl Upshaw, a consultant for policymic, “Flag burning in a public protest is a deliberate attempt to provoke a reaction…When it is successful, why hold the provoked person responsible…The 1st Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, but it doesn’t guarantee freedom from foreseeable consequences”.
So in conclusion, flag burning is a form of protest that should not be restricted, for to ban such protest would be in contradiction of the very freedom that the flag is to represent in the first place. However, protesting in this way might provoke angry reactions in others, and that is a natural consequence that comes with exercising such freedom.