Flag Burning Free Speech

Is Flag Burning Free Speech, or an Illegal Act?

People are burning the American flag like it is nothing under the protection of “Free Speech”.
Committing arson, or at minimum violating local laws against randomly setting fires in the street is illegal in most cities and counties.
This has got to stop. Burning flags, Bibles, and other things in the street is NOT a peaceful protest, it’s arson.

Free Speech and the Law

In 1989 the Supreme Court ruled in Texas vs. Johnson 491 U.S. 379 that flag burning was indeed freedom of expression.

Here is the short version according to the Government Website uscourts.gov

Gregory Lee Johnson burned an American flag outside of the convention center where the 1984 Republican National Convention was being held in Dallas, Texas.

Johnson burned the flag to protest the policies of President Ronald Reagan. He was arrested and charged with violating a Texas statute that prevented the desecration of a venerated object, including the American flag, if such action were likely to incite anger in others.

A Texas court tried and convicted Johnson. He appealed, arguing that his actions were “symbolic speech” protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court agreed to hear his case.

Supreme Court Ruling on Free Speech

Here is the reasoning behind the decision in the Texas vs. Johnson case according to uscourts.gov.

The majority of the Court, according to Justice William Brennan, agreed with Johnson and held that flag burning constitutes a form of “symbolic speech” that is protected by the First Amendment.

The majority (5 to 4) noted that freedom of speech protects actions that society may find very offensive, but society’s outrage alone is not justification for suppressing free speech.

In particular, the majority noted that the Texas law discriminated upon viewpoint, i.e., although the law punished actions, such as flag burning, and might arouse anger in others, it is specifically exempted from prosecution actions that were respectful of venerated objects. (In other words they can burn what they want in a protest), e.g., burning and burying a worn-out flag.

The majority said that the government could not discriminate in this manner based solely upon viewpoint.

What about the public safety?

The recent incident involving the Fed-Ex driver that put out the fires and defended the flag has drawn national attention, but one thing to note is that the flag burners were ultimately charged for burning without a permit. No one seems to be mentioning it.

Free Speech Endangers Public

Please correct me if I am wrong, but an individual’s right to free speech and expression is limited to public safety.
I learned in my CJ courses that when it comes to law, it is a chain of command type process.
We have our Constitutional rights (Federal), but then we have our State laws. State laws can be made only if they do not violate our Constitutional rights.
Individual rights come from the Constitution, but State rights are determined by the people in that State for the protection of the people in that State.
City and County ordnances work the same way. They are put into place by the people for the safety of the people in that city or county. That is why some places impose tighter restrictions on burning things according to the threat level it poses.
Public safety takes precedent over individual rights, hence the fire ordnances and restrictions.
So when did these public safety laws become irrelevant for flag burning and the illegal act breaking local laws?
It is my opinion that the SCOTUS got it wrong. No individual has the right to endanger or inhibit the rights of others concerning safety,freedom and/or property.
If you are walking down the street minding your own business, and then come across a “protest” Do they have the right to endanger your life, or disrupt your life in any way? No they do not!
I conclusion to “is flag burning free speech or an illegal act? I say it is an illegal act in most cities if you don’t have a burn permit. How many of those flag burners do you think had a permit?

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