Burning the US flag is fine, but the rainbow one not
The US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has held that the government cannot prohibit citizens from desecrating the American flag. Congress has repeatedly attempted to outlaw flag burning through legislation and constitutional amendments, without success. The rainbow flag is another matter altogether.
Published: February 25, 2023, 8:14 am
The court interpreted the First Amendment to apply to symbolic expressions such as burning flags, burning crosses, wearing armbands, and the like.
In Texas v. Johnson, the court ruled that the First Amendment protects burning the flag because the act falls within “expressive conduct”. When Gregory Johnson burned the flag to protest the policies of then-President Ronald Reagan, he was arrested for violating a Texas law.
In the 5-4 SCOTUS decision which struck down the law as unconstitutional, it stated: “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”
This decision annulled national flag desecration laws that had existed in 48 states.
After the Johnson decision, Congress tried to criminalize flag burning through legislation, but the constitutionality of this law also came before the Supreme Court. In the United States v. Eichman case, it once again overturned this legislation.
Protecting the rainbow flag
The only flag that one cannot burn in the US, is the “Pride” flag. It’s not considered freedom of speech. A man was given a 15 year jail sentence in 2019 because he had burned a rainbow flag.
LGTBQ supporters argue that he was found guilty because he had “stolen” the gay flag. But an American flag was stolen from a courthouse and burned in front of said courthouse and nothing happened in Portland July 2020.
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