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Banning flag burning dilutes the very freedoms that make the flag worth revering.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016 21:27
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Judge Andrew Napolitano writes in the Washington Times,

Is flag burning protected speech? This old issue returned front and center earlier this week after President-elect Donald Trump tweeted that he found it so reprehensible, it should be criminal. He even suggested a punishment — loss of citizenship or one year in jail. Is the president-elect correct? Can the government punish acts that accompany the expression of opinions because the government, or the public generally, hates or fears the opinions?

For the sake of this analysis, like the U.S. Supreme Court, which has addressed this twice in the past 27 years, I am addressing whether you can burn your own American flag. The short answer is: Yes. You can burn your flag and I can burn mine, so long as public safety is not impaired by the fires. But you cannot burn my flag against my will, nor can you burn a flag owned by the government.

The First Amendment, which prohibits Congress from enacting laws infringing upon the freedom of speech, has consistently been interpreted in the modern era so as to insulate the public manifestation of political ideas from any government interference, whether the manifestation is by word or deed or both. This protection applies even to ideas that are hateful, offensive, unorthodox and outright un-American. Not a few judges and constitutional scholars have argued that the First Amendment was written for the very purpose of protecting the expression of hateful ideas, as loveable or popular ideas need no protection.

…The amendment was also written for two additional purposes. One was, as Justice Jackson wrote as quoted above, to keep the government out of the business of passing judgment on ideas and deciding what we may read, speak about or otherwise express in public. The corollary to this is that individuals should decide for themselves what ideas to embrace or reject, free from government interference.

…Justice Jackson also warned that a government strong enough to suppress ideas that it hates or fears was powerful enough to suppress debate that inconveniences it, and that suppression would destroy the purposes of the First Amendment. The Jacksonian warning is directly related to the amendment’s remaining understood purpose — to encourage and protect open, wide, robust debate about any aspect of government.

All these values were addressed by the Supreme Court in 1989 and again in 1990 when it laid to rest the flag burning controversies by invalidating all statutes aimed at suppressing opinions.

…The American flag is revered because it is a universally recognizable symbol of the human sacrifice of some for the human freedom of many. Justice Scalia recognized that flag burning is deeply offensive to many people — this writer among them — yet he, like Justice Jackson before him, knew that banning it dilutes the very freedoms that make the flag worth revering.
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