Trump’s proposal to strip flag-burners of citizenship sets Twitter ablaze

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump hugs a US flag as he comes onstage to rally with supporters in Tampa, Florida, October 24, 2016. © Jonathan Ernst
President-elect Donald Trump has stirred up a firestorm on social media by suggesting that burning the American flag should be against the law. Critics have condemned the statement as infringing on constitutionally protected free speech.

Early Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted that burning the American flag should be banned and punishable by a year in jail or loss of citizenship.

A number of critics took to social media with reminders that burning the flag in protest is considered protected speech under the First Amendment to the US Constitution, as established by two US Supreme Court decisions.

A common argument was that freedom of speech protects both flag-burning and Trump’s tweets.

In 1989’s “Texas v. Johnson” decision, the Supreme Court ruled that flag burning was a form of constitutionally protected “symbolic speech.” The following year, the court reaffirmed the decision by overruling the Flag Protection Act passed by Congress, in the case known as “US v. Eichman.”

“Our democracy is strong because we tolerate all peaceful forms of expression, no matter how uncomfortable they make us feel or how much we disagree,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in response to the president-elect’s statement. “We will continue to react quickly and forcefully to any future attempts to restrict the protections of the First Amendment.”

Democrats who rushed to protest Trump’s tweet were quickly reminded that Hillary Clinton – whom polls and the media considered a favorite in the November 8 presidential election – sponsored a bill to ban flag-burning in 2005, while serving as a senator from New York.

Some Trump supporters even suggested that the tweet was a clever ploy to make the president-elect’s critics look foolish.

The “Stars and Stripes” flag dates back to 1777, though it has been updated through US history to make the number of stars in the blue field reflect the number of federal states. The current design with 50 stars was adopted in 1959. The flag is considered a symbol deserving of great reverence, with laws governing its proper handling and disposal if damaged.

US schools begin their day by students pledging allegiance to the flag and the American Republic, a ritual that dates back to 1892. The Pledge was officially adopted by Congress in 1942, and updated with the words “under God” in 1954.