Flag Burning Essay Research Paper Flag Burning

Flag Burning Essay, Research Paper

Flag Burning can be and usually is a very controversial issue. Many people are offended by the thought of destroying this country’s symbol of liberty and freedom. During a political protest during the 1984 Republican Convention, Gregory Lee Johnson was arrested for burning an American flag. Years later in 1989, Johnson got the decision overturned by the United States Supreme Court. In the same year, the state of Texas passed the Flag Protection Act, which prohibited any form of desecration against the American flag. This act provoked many people to protest and burn flags anyway. Two protestors, Shawn Eichman and Mark Haggerty were charged with violating the law and arrested. Both Eichman and Haggerty appealed the decision because the law was inconsistent with the first amendment to the Constitution. The right to petition the government for a redress of grievances is protected by the first amendment of the Constitution. Burning American flags and other such actions are not treasonous and should no be treated as so, as long as these actions are done to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The dissenting opinion to the previous idea is that the government’s legitimate interest in preserving the symbolic value of the flag is, however, essentially the same that may have motivated a particular act of flag burning. The flag uniquely symbolizes the ideas of liberty, equality, and tolerance – ideas that Americans have passionately defended and debated throughout our history. The flag embodies the spirit of our national commitment to those ideals. To the world, the flag is our promise that we will continue to strive for these ideals. To us, the flag is a reminder both that the struggle for liberty and equality is unceasing, and that our obligation of tolerance and respect for all of our fellow citizens encompasses those who disagree with us – indeed, even those whose ideas are disagreeable or offensive.

While the Republican National Convention was taking place in Dallas in 1984, respondent Johnson participated in a political protest. The purpose of this event was to protest the policies of the Reagan administration and of certain Dallas-based corporations. The demonstrators marched through the Dallas streets, chanting political slogans and stopping at several corporate locations to dramatize the consequences of nuclear war. On several occasions they spray-painted the walls of buildings and overturned potted plants, but Johnson himself took no part in such activities. He did, however, accept an American flag handed to him by a fellow protestor. The demonstration ended in front of Dallas City Hall, where Johnson unfolded the American flag, drenched it with kerosene, and set it on fire. While the flag burned, the protestors chanted. No one was physically injured or threatened with injury, though several witnesses had said that they had been seriously offended by the flag burning.

Of all of the demonstrators, Johnson was the only person charged with a crime. The only criminal offense with which he was charged was the desecration of a venerated object. After a trial, he was convicted, sentenced to one year in prison, and fined $2,000. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth District of Texas at Dallas affirmed Johnson’s conviction, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the decision holding that the State could not punish Johnson for burning the flag in these circumstances in order to remain consistent with the First Amendment. This case went to the United States Supreme Court, in which the decision was made that punishing Johnson for burning the flag was unconstitutional.

The Flag Protection Act, which was passed in 1989 basically states:

A. 1. Whomever knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the for or ground, or tramples upon any flag of the United States shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.

A. 2. This subsection does not prohibit any conduct consisting of the disposal of a flag when it has become worn or spoiled.

B. As used in this section, the term “flag of the United States” means any flag of the United States or any part thereof, made of any substance, of any size, in a form that is commonly displayed.

C. Nothing in this section shall be construed as indicating intent on the part of Congress to deprive any State, territory, possession, or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico of jurisdiction of any offense over which it would have jurisdiction in the absence of this section.

D. 1. An appeal may be taken directly to the Supreme Court of the United States form any interlocutory or final judgment, decree, or order issued by a United States district court ruling upon the constitutionality of subsection (a).

D. 2. The Supreme Court shall, if it has not previously ruled on the question, accept jurisdiction over the appeal and advance on the docket and expedite to the greatest extent possible.

The Supreme Court cases of the United States v. Eichman and the United States v. Haggerty dealt with this bill. Both Haggerty and Eichman protested the passing of the act because they thought that it violated their freedom of symbolic speech. Only a year after this bill was passed, the United States Supreme Court said that the Flag Protection Act of 1989 was unconstitutional and therefore, rarely enforced.

Protesters have burned the American flag to express outrage at a political idea such as war, or even to challenge any objections to the burning of flags. Such behavior has outraged many Americans who feel that the flag is a symbol of the United States that should be protected from harm, and that burning flags should not be protected under the First Amendment. In a number of cases that came to the Federal district court, the courts dismissed the charges under the belief that the Act violated the free speech clause of the First Amendment. The government appealed the United States v. Eichman case to the Supreme Court in 1990.

The guiding principles for the Supreme Court are found in the Bill of Rights, which comprise the first ten amendments to the Constitution. The First Amendment outlines personal liberties in the freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and the right to petition the government or the redress of grievances. Since the Bill of Rights was adopted, conflicts over what types of speech or expression are protected by the Constitution have led the Supreme Court to provide some additional clarification. The definition of speech has not come to include only spoken words, but also symbolic speech as well as the two forms of speech together. This definition sometimes requires citizens to tolerate unpopular speech for the sake of preserving the spirit of the freedom itself.

The symbolic value of the American flag is not the same today as it was yesterday. Events during the last three decades have altered the country’s image in the eyes of numerous Americans, and some now have difficulty understanding the message that the flag conveyed to their parents and grandparents – whether they be native or from abroad. Also, the integrity of the symbol has been compromised by those leaders who seem to advocate compulsory worship of the flag even by individuals whom it offends, or who seem to manipulate the symbol of national purpose into a pretext for partisan disputes about meaner ends. United States Supreme Court Justice Brennan said that “Punishing desecration of the flag dilutes the very freedom that makes this emblem so revered, and worth revering.”

Burning the American Flag September 13. “http://www-c.pbs.org/jefferson/enlight/flag.htm.”

Texas v. Johnson September 13. “http://www2.law.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/foliocgi.exe/historic/query=[group+491+u!2Es!2E+397!3A]^[group+citemenu!3A]^[level+case+citation!3A]^[group+notes!3A]/doc/{@1}/hit_headings/words=4/hits_only?.”

United States v. Eichman September 13. “http://caselaw.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=search&linkurl=&graphurl=&court=US&case=/us/496/310.html.”

Welch, Michael Flag Burning: Moral Panic and the Criminalization of Protest (Social Problems and Social Issues).

Goldstein, Robert Justin Burning the Flag: The Great 1989-1990 American Flag Desecration Controversy Asylum Books.