Defending Flag-Burning Preserves Freedoms

In response to the arrest of an Illinois man who burned a flag earlier this month, David Mercer examines how many flag burning laws still exist. According to his article in The Associated Press, at least 40 states still have laws banning flag burning.

However, U.S. Supreme Court cases in 1989 and 1990 established that burning flags is a form of symbolic expression that the First Amendment protects. Despite these decisions, many states states still maintain these laws, making it more likely that protesters may be erroneously arrested.

The symbolic act of flag burning clearly conveys a message on the part of the person performing the act. As an act of protest, it is a form of expression in a way that burning other items—, such as a pile of leaves—, is not. While this practice offends many, allowing it is, paradoxically, a means of defending the freedoms that the U.S. flag represents.

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