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Burning the flag: a sign of civil unrest

December 9, 2016

The First Amendment is sacred to the foundation and continuation of the United States of America as a free nation. The ability to petition the government, to declare personal ideals through small and large protests is considered a fundamental value of American democracy. Burning the American flag is one controversial way people protest the United States government and society, and President-elect Donald Trump stated he feels that such an act should be punished with a forfeiture of U.S. citizenship and one year in jail.

If Trump wishes to penalize people for expressing themselves in accordance to the Constitution, what does that say about the projected future of our rights as citizens? Will criticizing the president then be an offense punishable by the removal of citizenship? Will the Sedition Act of 2017 be a DBQ topic for a future AP United States history student?

No matter how offensive burning the flag appears, the right to express frustrations with the government is fundamental to democracy. The government needs to know when its processes distress its people. Besides that, the Supreme Court twice upheld the right to burn the flag. Many view the flag as a representation of freedom and honor to troops. Burning it insults some; however, to honor that freedom and sacrifice by banning the political freedom that our soldiers secured, is contradictory. Trump, in the third presidential debate, said he would appoint Supreme Court justices that upheld the original interpretation of the Constitution as well as the amendments, specifically the second, but suddenly he decided he could revoke some constitutional rights.

Flag burning usually does not follow American presidential elections, but has consistently resurfaced to vent reactions since the election of Donald Trump. The pain surfaces around a president-elect that is perceived as supporting racism, sexism, Islamophobia, ableism and xenophobia. Certain people felt he belittled marginalized groups to boost his polls. Times of civil unrest, such as the Ferguson decision that acquitted a police officer for shooting an 18-year-old African-American man, result in people making controversial signs of outrage to bring attention to their cause.

The law to eliminate burning the flag at non-violent political protests would enforce regulation to undermine basic civil liberties. It would limit the voices of the oppressed even further.

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