Over the past several years, amidst Black Lives Matter protests and other social justice movements calling attention to flaws within the American legal system, the issue of flag burning has returned to the national stage. While the Supreme Court has decided on two separate occasions, once in 1989 and then again in 1990, that burning the American flag is protected under the First Amendment, politicians and pundits have since claimed that the offense should be punishable by law. Now, despite his self-proclaimed respect for the First Amendment protections provided by the Constitution, Donald Trump is calling for punishments for individuals who decide to express their sentiments by setting fire to the stars and stripes.
It is still unclear as to what prompted this message, but Trump tweeted out this morning that "nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag -- if they do, there must be consequences -- perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” Some pundits believe that a flag burning incident at Hampshire College in Massachusetts earlier this month may have aggravated Trump to a point that he wanted to address the matter publicly in the only way he knows how – Twitter.
Despite the adamant stance against flag-burning, however, Trump’s statement is baseless. According to Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas Law School, Trump could not even attempt to rescind citizenship for the act. "In addition to ignoring the Supreme Court's clear teaching that flag burning is constitutionally protected speech, Mr. Trump's tweet also casually suggests that citizens should lose their citizenship as a 'penalty' for such acts. Even if flag burning wasn't protected, it would still be unconstitutional to deprive someone of their citizenship without some voluntary act on their part to renounce their allegiance to the United States or pledge fealty to a foreign sovereign."
Interestingly enough, even one of the Supreme Court’s most conservative justices did not think flag-burning should be unconstitutional. Antonin Scalia, the recently passed Supreme Court justice whose seat Trump will attempt to fill, argued that flag-burning was merely an expression of an opinion and was thus heavily protected by the Constitution. "Burning the flag is a form of expression - speech doesn't just mean written words or oral words - burning a flag is a symbol that expresses an idea. 'I hate the government, the government is unjust,' or whatever."
What do you think about Trump’s calls to punish individuals who burn the flag?