I recently gave a policy speech in my Advanced Public Speaking class on why burning the American flag in the United States should be an illegal act. I figured I'd share my argument on this topic as this is something I feel very strongly about.

First, some background. Since a 1969 court case, burning our flag has been protected by the First Amendment, though there have been attempts to overrule this decision. Before the court case ruling, the Federal Flag Desecration Law was enacted, which prohibited any action of “contempt” against the flag. I believe that we should return to and enforce this protection of our nation’s symbol.

I consider flag-burning to not only be an ineffective way to express disagreement, but toxic as well. More than that, I believe it to be a hate crime. Yes, it makes an obvious statement, but at the heart of it, all it truly exhibits is hatred for our country. I would even go so far as to question if flag-burning ought to be judged as treason. Furthermore, this act could be considered a form of violence, as it encourages a “mob mentality.” Could this easily lead to even more violent actions? I would argue that yes, it easily could. This quickly sparks a chain reaction of chaos that cannot easily be contained.

As you all are aware of, our troops are overseas sacrificing their lives for our rights. There is no greater action of disrespect and disregard towards them than to burn the epitome of those rights. According to the Department of Defense, 4,425 of our soldiers have died in the Iraqi War alone. I’m sure each of us in this room has some sort of connection with a soldier stationed overseas or maybe even one who died in combat. Our troops are fighting for our rights. And we abuse those rights to ignite and scorch the very thing they are sacrificing their lives for. What blatant disrespect for those 4,425 (amongst thousands of others) who’ve died on our behalf.

And yet we allow people to burn the symbol of our nation until it is nothing more than a pile of ash.

It is significant to remember that prohibiting flag-burning doesn’t take away your freedom of expression. That freedom would still be very much intact. You are still allowed to disagree with the decisions made by our government, which many of our citizens are quite good at doing. There are numerous alternatives for voicing such disagreement, many of which are considerably more constructive and peaceful.

People have turned their “rights” into entitlement to do or say whatever they want against our country. And yes, this is America. We live in a country where we have the freedom to do something as bold as burning the flag. But shouldn’t we also demand respect for our country? Respect for the fact that we are granted such liberty? With that in mind, there is a fine line here. A fine line between freedom of expression and abuse of such freedom. There need to be boundaries to maintain not only the safety of our country, but to preserve the respect for it as well. Respect for those protecting it and respect for all that our flag represents. To burn it is to prove that one has no respect or regard for their extensive liberties.

We often feel entitled to our “rights,” but it’s important to keep mind that they are also privileges. The abuse of such privileges can easily mean that they be taken away and this is something that many seem to have forgotten. Once again, forbidding the burning of our flag does not eliminate the First Amendment and freedom of expression. I would argue that it purifies it.

Our country is struggling right now to be united and to live in peace with one another. So why are we allowing something as toxic and hateful as burning our country’s own flag? Yes, we have our rights, but this issue goes far beyond that. So I urge you to consider…is this freedom or the very definition of desecration?