Flag Desecration

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GianCarlo Montiel

Helen Sandoval

WRI 10, Section 36


Flag Desecration

The act of burning a nation’s flag should not be considered a hate crime because it is an act of freedom of speech. For the sake of this argument, a hate crime will be defined as “a crime, usually violent, motivated by prejudice or intolerance toward a member of a gender, racial, religious, or social group.” (Dictionary.com). This is the definition that people tend to agree with. However, to help clarify the definition, one must define violent, violence is “the use of physical force to harm someone, to damage property, etc.” (Merriam-webster.com) . This is how we shall define a hate crime when referring to flag desecration.

Flag desecration is viewed differently all across the world. Different nation’s governments regard this act with opposing views. In this essay, we shall refer to the burning of the American flag. As of today, it is not illegal to burn our nation’s flag. Should it be? That is a question that we shall address in this essay, merely because if burning a nation’s flag was a hate crime, then it should follow that it should be illegal. This has been discussed for over a century in our country. At one point in time, it actually was illegal to desecrate the flag. People to this day still argue that it should be illegal.

This particular act of burning the nation’s flag is currently being protected by the First Amendment. The First Amendment states that American citizens have the right to the freedom of speech. Yes, freedom of speech is an extremely vague statement. However, one must acknowledge that burning a nation’s flag is an act of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is not always the act of a person verbally saying something. Freedom of speech also correlates with the idea of expressing one’s emotions, opinions, thoughts, etc. There are plenty of reasons of why one might feel the need to burn a nation’s flag.

Flag desecration is an act of freedom of speech, therefore it should not be illegal. This is not like any other crime which severely has a negative effect on the country or its people. Some acts of hate crime might include bullying or verbal abuse. Murder and rape are some crimes that violently hurt the victim. However, burning a nation’s flag has no direct effect on people. No one is being hurt from this act. If you break this act down to its physical components, all a person is doing, is burning a flag. Something that might not differ from burning newspaper. Since perception is reality, then it all matters in the manner of how someone looks at the act.

Many people hold a different view on the subject. They believe that burning a nation’s flag should be considered a hate crime, and that it should be illegal. These people hold very strong emotions toward the subject due to the fact that they feel like it is the highest level of disrespect to burn a nation’s flag. These people feel that the flag is not just a piece of paper with stripes and stars, they believe that the flag consists of much more than just that. Their argument states that the flag symbolizes all the American people. A belief that the flag stands for our unity and everything that we as Americans, stand for. They hold the mindset that the flag represents all the people that have lost their lives fighting for our country and for the rights of our people. They believe that burning the flag is extremely disrespectful toward the nation, and that it is a disgrace to dishonor our nation. Burning the flag now seems to hold more meaning with these views.

Now that we see both views on burning the flag, we must see which view holds the most reasonable truth. One view holds that it is a hate crime to burn the nation’s flag because the flag stands for the unity of the country and much more. The other view holds that burning the nation’s flag is not a hate crime because it is an act of freedom of speech. Let’s say that a person accidentally burns a flag, does he deserve to go to jail? Or if that person just likes burning things, does he deserve to go to jail? Or what if that person is attempting to state something on a political aspect, such as not agreeing with the President’s last decision, does this person deserve to go to jail? There are many reasons in which a person might decide to burn a flag, it would be extremely hard to identify a person’s motives.

Let’s say this person burns the flag because he hates America, he hates freedom, he hates what the country stands for, and this person is simply attempting to disrespect the nation in the worst way possible. Would there be a difference if this exact same person got himself in front of a Television and began to express his views verbally? Saying the worst things about the nation. Would this person deserve to go to jail? No, this person would not deserve to go to jail. No, there is no difference within these two acts, both of them are expressing the same thoughts and opinions. Matt Nagin wrote, “The flag may symbolize important American ideals but it does not embody them. We should allow protesters in our own country to continue to burn the flag since we need to protect individual liberties.” (Flag Burning is a Freedom We Must Respect) Nagin knew that burning the flag is an act of freedom of speech and does not belittle what our nation stands for. If people are afraid that our nation’s unity and what our nation stands for is going to be disrespected, then these people should stop attempting to violate our rights in the first place. Our nation has fought for the rights we now hold. One of these rights is the freedom of speech. We hold the right as human beings to be able to speak our minds without having to be scared of the government or of the consequences. This view is not encouraging the burning of flags, it is simply stating that it is not a hate crime to do so. If we lose our freedom of speech, we digress as a nation.

“Laws protecting the United States Flag do not cut away at the freedom of speech guaranteed in the First Amendment… Congress made this position clear upon passage of the Flag Protection Act of 1989.” (Brainyquote.com). Larry Craig said this in favor of establishing flag burning as a hate crime. However, one must not forget that it only took one year for Congress to realize its mistake in the U.S v.s Eichman case, where they banned the act. William J. Brennan once said, “We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so, we dilute the freedom this cherished emblem represents.” (Brainyquote.com). This man truly understood what the flag stands for. The flag, among other things, stands for the freedom of speech. He understood that protecting the flag by putting a law around it, would only contradict what the flag was for in the first place. Therefore, burning a nation’s flag should not be considered a hate crime.


"hate crime." Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 06 Oct. 2014. .

"Violence." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 6 Oct. 2014. .

Craig, Larry, and William J. Brennan. "Desecration Quotes." BrainyQuote. Xplore, 2001. Web. 06 Oct. 2014.

Nagin, Matt. "Burning the Flag Is a Freedom of Speech That We Must Respect." Mic. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2014.

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