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Can Someone Legally Burn the Flag?

Although highly controversial, flag burning has been considered by the Supreme Court to be a form of symbolic expression protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. State laws still exist prohibiting such acts, but are rarely enforced. In addition to flag burning ordinances, there are many other laws pertaining to the flag. While burning the American flag is an action that looks illegal, since it is a symbol of the United States, it is protected as a symbolic speech under the First Amendment.

The American Flag is usually burnt as a symbol of protest against a policy that the United States and its government has enforced that the people do not agree with.

Can Someone Speak Poorly of the American Flag?

According to the Supreme Court, any individual has the right to publicly speak disapprovingly about the flag. Under the First Amendment, people have the right to free speech and they can speak of the American Flag in any way they want as long as the speech does not fall under an unprotected speech such as a threat or speech that might cause a riot.

Can the American Flag Be Used in Advertising?

The Supreme Court has stated nearly 100 years ago that the flag should not be represented in commercial advertising. However, laws enacted in regards to this ruling are rarely, if ever, enforced. Many people also fly the American flag as a symbol of patriotism.

Can Someone Alter the American Flag in Any Way?

Attaching or superimposing figures, symbols, or other extraneous material on the flag is permissible, according to the Supreme Court. Many people also display the American flag upside down. Flying an American Flag upside down means a political protest which began as a military distress signal. Displaying the flag in this way portrays extreme danger to life or property and is meant to make a statement about distress in civic, political, and other areas.

How Does the Word "Desecration" Apply?

The statutes of many states include the word "desecration." In fact, Congress has occasionally attempted to amend the Constitution in such a way that would prohibit burning or any other form of desecration.

However, such an amendment would sit in fundamental opposition to the First Amendment. Moreover, because the word "desecration" implies something is sacred, the government may potentially be overstepping the separation of church and state.

Should I Consult with a Lawyer?

If you feel that you’re constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of speech or the press have been compromised, you should strongly consider contacting a criminal defense lawyer. Speaking with the proper lawyer experienced in your constitutional protections will inform you of your rights as well as preserve any possible legal remedies you may have.

Photo of page author Ki Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 02-04-2016 11:51 AM PST

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