Flag Burning Still Protected Speech

Donnie O’Sullivan, writing for CNN, reports on the recent controversy surrounding Bryton Mellot, a 22-year old Illinois resident who burned an American flag.

Mellot was arrested on Sunday, July 3, by police in Urbana, Illinois. Arresting officers claimed that they had received complaints from social media users who were offended by content  Mellot posted which included a picture of Mellot holding a flaming American flag along with a description explaining his motivations and decrying “blind nationalism.”

According to O’Sullivan’s article, police arrested Mellot for violating an Illinois flag desecration law, and did so in order to “try to assure the safety of the public and Mr. Mellott.”

However, Mellot was not charged  because, as O’Sullivan writes, the 2013 flag desecration law is “contradictory to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that deemed flag burning protected by the First Amendment.”

That decision, Texas v. Johnson, declared flag-burning a form of protected “symbolic speech.” Further cases, such as United States v. Eichman, have reinforced this right to burn the flag symbolically.

In a truly free society, even speech which is profoundly disagreeable to the majority of people must be protected in order to properly preserve  freedom of speech for all.

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