On Tuesday morning, President-elect Donald Trump sent out a startling tweet with his plan for what could someday happen to people who burn the American flag.
According to Trump, flag burners would “perhaps” lose their citizenship or be subject to one year in jail for burning the red, white and blue symbol of America.
“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” Trump wrote on Tuesday.
In the United States of America, land of the free and home of the brave, people are within their legal right to burn the American flag if they feel so inclined.
This became law in 1989 after the Supreme Court decided that outlawing flag burning could potentially violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Republican Anthony Kennedy, now an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, who was appointed to the nation’s highest court by President Ronald Reagan, argued that one must put away any personal beliefs and follow the rule of law.
“The hard fact is that sometimes we must make decisions we do not like. We make them because they are right, right in the sense that the law and the Constitution, as we see them, compel the result,” Kennedy wrote.
“Though symbols often are what we ourselves make of them, the flag is constant in expressing beliefs Americans share, beliefs in law and peace and that freedom which sustains the human spirit. The case here today forces recognition of the costs to which those beliefs commit us. It is poignant but fundamental that the flag protects those who hold it in contempt.”
As soon as Trump made his comments, thousands of Twitter users chimed in with explainers, reminding the president-elect that he was proposing a change to the Constitution. Many tweets informed Trump that the late Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia voted to uphold one’s right to burn the flag.
“Yes, if I were king, I…I would not allow people to go about burning the American flag. However, we have a First Amendment, which says that the right of free speech shall not be abridged. And it is addressed, in particular, to speech critical of the government. I mean, that was the main kind of speech that tyrants would seek to suppress,” Scalia said in 2012. “Burning the flag is a form of expression. Speech doesn’t just mean written words or oral words. It could be semaphore. And burning a flag is a symbol that expresses an idea — I hate the government, the government is unjust, whatever.”