Over the weekend, President Trump tweeted his support for a bill proposed by Republican Senator Steve Daines that would outlaw flag burning — overturning a Supreme Court precedent that protects it as free speech.
Here’s the tweet:
All in for Senator Steve Daines as he proposes an Amendment for a strong BAN on burning our American Flag. A no brainer!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2019
Many of President Trump’s supporters, including prominent ones such as Candace Owens, weighed in to agree that flag burning should indeed be punished:
If I were President, the punishment for burning the U.S flag would be the renunciation of citizenship.
No jail time, no fine— simply one year to liquidate your assets and get the hell out of our country.
In exchange, we’d extend citizenship to a hardworking LEGAL immigrant.
— Candace Owens (@RealCandaceO) June 16, 2019
Now, Daines has claimed that flag-burning must be banned since the “flag is a timeless symbol of liberty . . . the story of our enduring pursuit of freedom.” Honestly, though, it seems clear to me that “our enduring pursuit of freedom” is exactly why it should never be banned.
Let me be clear: It’s not that I’m not a patriot because I want to keep flag-burning legal, it’s that I want to keep flag-burning legal because I am a patriot.
Is burning an American flag a disgusting, reprehensible act? Yes, it absolutely is, and I would tell that to the face of absolutely anyone who has done so. The flag is a symbol of our freedom, and burning it absolutely is one of the least patriotic things that a person could possibly do. I say “one of the least” because I can think of a few things that would actually be less so — and, as a matter of fact, I think that banning flag-burning would absolutely be on that list.
Now, I understand that some of you may think that that sounds insane — but, before you tweet at me and tell me that I should be deported, just take a moment and hear me out. Although it may seem counterintuitive, one of the things that our flag stands for is our right to burn it if we choose to do so. Why? Because among the freedoms that the flag stands for is our freedom of speech.
These days, it seems to me that when most people think about “free speech,” they think about it as a protection from our increasingly politically correct culture. This is, of course, true — and it is important. It’s not, however, the most important reason for this freedom. No . . . the most important role that the First Amendment plays in this country is that it gives us the freedom to speak out against our government, thereby providing a check on its power.
Now, I normally hate the “slippery slope” argument, but in this instance, I have to admit that the slope is exactly what makes me so terrified. Think about it: If we outlaw flag burning because it is “unpatriotic,” what could “because unpatriotic” be used as an excuse to outlaw next? Protesting government decisions? Speaking out against the president? If we start using “lack of patriotism” as a barometer for what speech should and should not be allowed, we could see the tragic loss of the very freedoms that our flag is meant to extoll.
Don’t like flag-burning? Fine. Hate flag-burning? Me too! The thing is, though, hating something doesn’t always mean that the answer is to call on government powers to ban it — and, in fact, I’d say that that is rarely the best solution, especially when it comes to speech. To me, a better solution than sliding even an inch down the slope of fascism would be to encourage people to use their own rights to free speech to protest the things that they don’t like . . . flag-burning included.
So, go ahead: Tell flag-burners how you really feel. Call them disgusting; call them unpatriotic; hell, call them ***holes. But do not try to use government power to stop them from exercising their First Amendment rights — because doing so is insult to the very symbol that you’re claiming to cherish.