In Donald Trump’s second stop on his post-election victory tour, the president-elect renewed his attacks on First Amendment rights, saying that as president “we will see what we can do about” those that burn the American flag.
It’s just the most recent in a series of comments Trump has made about the very small number of people who actually engage in flag burning. Still, it’s puzzlingly become a rallying cry for the president-elect and his supporters.
Just last week, Trump even proposed legal punishments for those who burn the American flag:
Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2016
The president-elect’s new talking point about those who burn the flag may be a reliable applause line at his rallies, but it’s also incredibly simplistic and short-sighted.
Whether we like it or not, the right of U.S. citizens to burn the American flag is protected as symbolic speech under the First Amendment via the 1989 Supreme Court Case, Texas v. Johnson. The reason this right is so special, despite Trump’s rhetoric, is that even forms of expression we don’t like, including flag burning, are protected.
If we start giving the government – or an unhinged president – the power to pick and choose which forms of speech should be free, it sets our country on a dangerous course.
It may be flag burning today, but what other forms of expression will the thin-skinned Trump decide to criminalize next?
In some cases, people choose to express themselves in ways that the vast majority of Americans aren’t fond of. Just take a look at how the Westboro Baptist Church chooses to speak out for their warped, extremist worldview. Still, the fact that they are allowed to do so speaks to the strength of our country.
This strength is something that we – and our next president – should value, not try to undermine.
Sean Colarossi currently resides in Cleveland, Ohio. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and was an organizing fellow for both of President Obama’s presidential campaigns. He also worked with Planned Parenthood as an Affordable Care Act Outreach Organizer in 2014, helping northeast Ohio residents obtain health insurance coverage.