The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled multiple times that burning the U.S. flag is protected speech under the Constitution's First Amendment. Additionally, SCOTUS has ruled in several cases that it's unconstitutional to involuntarily take away an American's citizenship as punishment. But Donald Trump says otherwise. On Tuesday morning, the president-elect tweeted support for disregarding both the Constitution and the Supreme Court when it comes to flag burning.
It's unclear what inspired Trump's tweet. However, the Washington Post notes that Hampshire College in Massachusetts recently decided to stop flying all flags, including American flags, after students burned one to protest Trump's election victory, which could have led to Trump's tweet.
Regardless of its inspiration, Trump's tweet is incredibly problematic on a number of levels.
In the 1989 Supreme Court case Texas v. Johnson, SCOTUS, citing the First Amendment, invalidated a Texas law that banned burning the American flag. Then, in United States v. Eichman in 1990, SCOTUS built upon the previous ruling and invalidated a federal law against desecrating the flag. So legally, the issue of flag burning has been settled for decades. It's completely legal, regardless of Trump's suggestions.
Regarding Trump's proposal to take away an American's citizenship for exercising their freedom of speech, SCOTUS has also struck down that idea already. In Trop v. Dulles in 1958, SCOTUS cited the Eighth Amendment and ruled that the government cannot strip someone's citizenship as punishment.
But Trump and his team are already doubling down. According to Politico, Trump's senior communications adviser Jason Miller defended the tweet on CNN shortly after it was posted. Miller refused to acknowledge that flag burning has already been declared protected speech and insisted that it should be illegal.
"Chris, flag burning is completely ridiculous," Miller told CNN host Chris Cuomo. "And I think you know that and I think the vast majority of Americans would agree." Cuomo noted that, ridiculous or not, it's legal, but Miller refused to back down. "But Chris, it's completely ridiculous," he said. "And I don't think there's a big universe of people out there who support flag burning. It's terrible and it’s despicable."
Of course, people didn't let the president-elect's problematic tweet go unnoticed:
One person connected the tweet to Trump's infamously offensive remarks about women (which are also protected by the First Amendment):
Others believe Trump's authoritarianism should get him impeached:
That's the beauty of the First Amendment. Trump is free to tweet whatever he'd like, and so can we—and we're all free to burn American flags in protest, too. The flag is a symbol of freedom, which entails the right to burn the very symbol of liberty itself. That's the whole point.
With that said, the fact that Trump is tweeting like a dictator is even scarier when you remember who's surrounding Trump:
White nationalists were thrilled when Trump named his Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor: Steve Bannon is bigoted on a number of levels, and has discussed the "genetic superiority of some people" and wishes that only property owners were allowed to vote. Some of Trump's supporters have quoted Nazi propaganda and given Trump the Nazi salute. Another Trump supporter cited FDR's Japanese internment camps during World War II as precedent for Trump's proposed Muslim registry.
It's petrifying that our president-elect so disdainfully and unapologetically disregards this nation's Constitution. He not only threatens to silence expression but to unconstitutionally lock people up or unconstitutionally take away their citizenship for utilizing their First Amendment rights.