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Flag Burning Civil Liberties Essay

Updated on April 22, 2012

Flag Burning

Flag burning has been an issue in the United States for years. It really came into the spotlight in 1989 through the Supreme Court case Texas v. Johnson. This case decided that any flag burning, as long as it doesn’t cause harm, is perfectly acceptable and would fall under a person’s rights of expression. I believe that you shouldn’t be able to burn the American flag, unless it is during a flag burning ceremony in which you retire the flag. The American flag shouldn’t be burned because it is disrespectful to the entire country, a flag retirement ceremony has a special purpose, and you shouldn’t burn a sign of freedom. I believe that an individual’s right to burn the American flag doesn’t trump the ideals of freedom and equality that the flag clearly stands for as it is flown above both private and government owned buildings across the country.

The flag represents the whole country, and without the protection from the United States, none of its citizens would enjoy the rights that they currently have. Burning the American flag shows a true disrespect to your own rights and the rights of others. In the court case Texas v. Johnson, Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the Dissenting opinion, in which he stated that the flag stood for so much more than a simple idea; it stood for a whole country and the history of the United States. This shows that even a Supreme Court Justice believes that it is wrong and disrespectful to burn the American flag and the ideals that it stands for.

During a flag retirement ceremony, you burn the flag in a respectful way to replace it with a new flag. A flag, overtime, will become old, moldy, or ripped and this is no way for a flag to be flown. In my eyes, this can also be seen as disrespectful. Once an American flag has been worn down to such a disheveled appearance, it is time to replace it. One doesn’t just throw the old flag out. You must have a proper ceremony in which you will burn the older flag into ashes in a respectful manner. There are usually a few polite words said about the history of the flag, and then everybody in attendance recites the Pledge of Allegiance while the flag is being burned. This is the only way that an American flag should be burned. This provides the type of respect that the flag that represents our country deserves.

Through burning the American flag, you will also have burnt the ideals of freedom that the flag represents. In a way, you will have also disrespected the troops that have fought and died for your freedom. Also the American flag can be seen as a symbol of the constitution, and as American citizens, it is our duty to uphold the Constitution and trust in the founders with what is written. It seems wrong to be able to be allowed to burn an American flag, which stands for the Constitution, while people wouldn’t dare to burn a copy of the Constitution to get a point across. They both represent our country and the freedom that it provides.

There are plenty of other ways to protest without showing the type of disrespect that burning an American flag would. "Flag burning is a form of expression that is spiteful or vengeful," says Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania). "It is designed to hurt. It is not designed to persuade." This solidifies my point. You can protest peacefully through a march of some sorts or even a type of boycott, but burning the American flag shows an outright intent to cause uproar. The rights to petition and assemble are protected under the 1st amendment and those rights aren’t nearly as disrespectful to the American flag, the Constitution, and the United States of America. I fully believe in the freedom of expression, but the idea of an American citizen fully disrespecting the United States of America should be a violation of the Constitution. No matter how upset any one citizen may be in regards to our government and the way things are run, they will always say they are proud to be an American. Burning the freedom that our nation represents and protects is no way for an American to act.

The one way I can see to solve the problem of flag burning would be to implement a flag burning amendment to the Constitution. Other flag burning amendments have been put forth into Congress, but all have failed. (These attempts were in the following years: 1990, 1995, 1997, 1999-2000, 2001, 2003, 2005-2006.) The fact that Congress has put forth these amendments shows that people high up in the government feel so strongly about our nation and what the American flag stands for.

I think that a new Constitutional amendment should be put forth, but it should be more specific to just flag burning and not flag desecration like the latest attempts have been. Desecration covers much too broad of a topic to fit into one amendment, and, frankly, I don’t believe this is as much a problem with desecration as there is flag burning. There is a proper way to replace an old worn-out flag, and that is the only way that an American flag should be burned. The American flag stands for so much more than just a flag; it represents freedom, the United States, rights that individuals have through the Constitution, and, most importantly, the ideals of the American people, and it should be protected under law to preserve all that it stands for.

Works Cited

Eggenberger, David.Flags of the USA. New York: Crowell, 1959. Print.

"Flag-burning Amendment Fails by a Vote."CNN. 27 June 2006. Web. 29 Mar. 2012.<>.

"Flag Burning Laws - History of U.S. Laws Against Flag Burning." Civil Liberties.Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <>.

"Flag Desecration Amendment."- Conservapedia. Web. 30 Mar. 2012.<>.

Schmidt, Steffen W., Mack C. Shelley, and Barbara A. Bardes.American Government and Politics Today: 2007-2008 Edition. Australia: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2006. Print.

"Texas v. Johnson."Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Mar. 2012. Web. 16 Mar. 2012.<>.


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