In a tweet posted yesterday, Donald Trump boldly proposed sanctions for those who choose to burn the American flag. Specifically, the president identified termination of citizenship or jailtime as possible punishments, which struck a chord with many Americans.
The statement was made in reaction to nationwide protests that continue to take place in the wake of Trump's election. Groups ranging from university students to leftist organizations are signaling their disappointment over this year's election through the symbolic albeit controversial burning of the American flag. Particularly notable was the November 9th demonstration at American University, where hundreds of students took to campus to voice their disdain. Among the crowd were several flag burners.
The aggravation doesn't appear to have subsided, as protestors flooded the streets of New York yesterday, congregating in an especially controversial location. Demonstrators burned the American flag in front of Trump International Hotel & Tower, located at Central Park West and Broadway. The protest occurred a mere six hours after Trump's provocative tweet.
True to form, Trump has taken a strong stance on these outbursts, denouncing flag burning as a repulsive, soon-to-be illegal act. The validity of this statement, however, is questionable, as the act of flag burning is officially protected by the First Amendment. This precedent was established over 25 years ago, by the widely-known Texas v. Johnson case.
As outlined in the official case summary, Gregory L. Johnson was sued by the state of Texas following his flag-burning demonstration in Dallas. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, and Johnson's "symbolic speech" argument ultimately prevailed in a close 5-4 decision.
The neck and neck opinion of the Court reflects a larger societal split on the matter. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Stevens asserted the flag's revered status was deserving of an exception to the First Amendment rule. Years later, Americans still find themselves in alignment with this argument, as the flag is widely regarded as sacred.
The official opinion of the court, however, says otherwise. The 1989 decision affords protection to those who burn the flag under the umbrella of "symbolic speech." The failure of subsequent attempts to amend this decision reinforces the notion that the American legislature values freedom of speech protections over the sanctity of the flag.
Therein lies the problem with Trump's threat. Yes, most Americans are against the burning of the flag. But going as far as to sidestep our freedom of speech rights to make this act illegal? Once again, a disgruntled Trump seems to have taken things too far.
Dorning, Mike. (29 Nov 2016). "Trump floats jail, loss of citizenship for U.S. flag burners." The Daily Record.
McGinness, Brian. (30 Nov 2016). "For the record: Trump's flag-burning tweet starts flame war." USA Today.
Stapleton, Shannon. (30 Nov 2016). "People burn the flag outside Trump hotel to protest his latest tweet." The Huffington Post.
Svrluga, Susan & Matos, Alejandra. (09 Nov 2016). "Student protestors burn American flags at confrontation over Trump's victory." The Washington Post.
Uscourts.gov. "Facts and case summary: Texas v. Johnson." United States Courts.