Flag burning prohibition presents contradiction for freedom of speech

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Daisy Rymer | Associate Layout Editor

From protests against the Vietnam War to those against the World Trade Organization, flag burning has always been a surefire way to catch attention and get people fired up. For many controversial moments in the American history, people have been there to burn flags. But for every person burning a flag, there are hundreds saying the act should be illegal. In Iberville Parish, for example, the parish council approved a law banning flag burning. This sort of law should not have been passed, as it violates the core principle of freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech in the U.S. is not necessarily a blanket term covering all forms of expression. Speech is unprotected if it exists only to cause fights or hate, as ruled in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire. Legally speaking, freedom of speech does not protect everything. In regards to flag burning, the practice currently falls under a protected category, as it is a form of protest. Forty states, however, still have laws that prohibit or punish flag burning even though it was deemed free speech in Texas v. Johnson in 1984.

The question at hand comes down to whether flag burning should be legal. People who stand against flag burning say the U.S. flag stands not just for America and its values but also for all the brave men and women who have risked their lives protecting the country. Some of these opponents of flag burning believe that every time someone burns the flag, they are not only desecrating this nation but also everyone who has died defending this country. There is a flaw with this logic, though.

If the soldiers died to protect the values of this nation, those values include freedom of speech and the right to protest. America has always been and will always be a nation of people who challenge the status quo. They fought and died for these values, not for a piece of fabric that represents them.

At the end of the day, flags are simply that — a piece of fabric. Iberville Parish might believe that prohibiting flag burning makes it more patriotic, but what we ascribe to the flag and what we decide it means are deeply personal to each and every person. For some this flag may mean peace, freedom and liberty.

For others, however, the very same flag represents hate, oppression and years of slavery. Both can stand true at the same time. Some may see the flag as a beacon of freedom, and some may see it as a symbol of hate. These two opposing sides need to understand each other by looking at the history of America and its reality for millions of people today.

Flags are powerful symbols, and burning them makes an even more powerful statement — a statement that is currently protected by the highest court in the land. As it stands, this act is allowed and remains a powerful form of protest. Just remember: freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences, and what happens after a flag burning is not protected by the court.

This is an opinion article and does not reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo. Quinn is a freshman at Newcomb-Tulane College. He can be reached at [email protected]