The Flag Desecration Act

When people think of the American flag, they often think of the symbol of our country, the symbol of freedom. The flag represents everything our country stands for and the sacrifices made to preserve our way of life. They often forget that the flag is just an object and that destroying the flag itself cannot destroy the flag's meaning.

The flag has often been used in protest. Many people have been arrested for flag desecration, or hurting the flag, such as a man in Washington who attached a peace sign to the flag and hung it in his dorm window and in the case Texas vs. Johnson, when Gregory Johnson violated Texas law by burning an American flag in protest.

In these cases, the court has ruled that flag desecration is a form of speech and is protected by the First Amendment, which reads, "Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Flag desecration is considered symbolic speech by the court because it expresses a message, although it does not come right out and tell the message. In the Encyclopedia of Social Issues, symbolic speech is an expressive act or behavior.

In response to the Court's ruling in these types of cases, Congress has been trying to pass a constitutional amendment to prohibit flag desecration. This amendment would read, "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States." The flag desecration amendment has died in Congress several times already, but many members are still pushing for the amendment to pass. Also, despite the Supreme Court's rulings, 49 out of the 50 states have laws prohibiting some form of flag desecration. This means that if Congress were to pass the amendment, it would be ratified by the states with no problem.

If the amendment passes, it will violate the citizen's first amendment rights.

The Encarta definition of desecration is "to damage something sacred, or do something offensive to the religious nature of something." To say "flag desecration" is like saying the flag is a sacred object. The government is not allowed to make a national holy or sacred object, even if that object represents the nation. That subject is completely up to the citizens, not the government. Most flag desecration acts are committed in protest of something the government has done. By banning flag desecration, the government is looking out for its own interests, forcing citizens to give the flag the respect the government feels it deserves, even if the citizens disagree with that feeling.

This amendment will continue to be pushed in Congress until enough people tell their representatives that it violates their freedom of speech. The members of Congress find flag desecration offensive, and usually, flag desecration is in protest of something Congress members have done.

If the majority of the public is in favor of the amendment, it will pass. But if enough people express, not their support of flag desecration itself, but their opposition of the proposed amendment, it is unlikely that Congress will allow the amendment to pass for political reasons.

If the amendment were passed, it can affect all forms of flag desecration. This amendment would apply to whatever the states consider desecration. Wearing clothes with flags or flag colors could become illegal. Flag-colored smiley face or peace sign stickers, which can be seen everywhere, could also be banned. Flag posters, calendars, propaganda, etc. might also become illegal. Refusing to say the pledge of allegiance could be considered "desecration" because it does not give the flag the respect the government requires. We will lose the right to not only protest the government, but to support it.

If the amendment is passed, the government is banning a form of speech and can use it as a way to pass other, similar amendments. If it is not passed, the freedom of symbolic speech, however offensive, is protected and so is the right to protest or support the government. If the right to symbolic speech is taken away simply because something is offensive, who's to say that the government won't take away other "offensive" forms of speech? Perhaps people find religion offensive and don't want it to be spoken about in public? Or, perhaps the government will decide that it needs just as much respect as the flag and prohibits anything against it from being said.

The Flag Desecration Amendment should not be passed. This amendment is not just about flag burning – it is about the very nation for which the flag stands. The proposed amendment violates the First Amendment and treats the flag as if it is a sacred object. Even though the desecration of a flag may be offensive, it does not justify taking away the right to free speech. Americans have the right to protect the freedoms they have fought so hard to preserve. If we ban flag desecration, we will be committing desecration of our rights.