Flag Burning and Free speech

By Scott Tibbs, June 24, 2019

Note: I sent this letter to President Trump on June 17.

Dear Mr. President,

According to the United States Flag Code, a worn out flag should be "destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning." This means that a ban on "flag burning" would not actually ban flag burning, but burning with the intent to send a specific message. This is clearly an attack on free speech, censoring opinions and political messages we dislike.

This is the difference between conservatism and populism. Conservatism holds fast to principles like limited government and defends critical rights like free speech - even if we dislike the message. Populism embraces a "patriotism" that places the state over the individual, and appeals to the emotions of the masses. Many of your strongest supporters applaud your call for a ban on flag burning, but it has been encouraging to see some of your strongest advocates oppose your proposal.

The logic you are using here is nearly identical to the Leftist mobs demanding that free speech on campus be silenced and punished because it is "dangerous" or "harmful." But the reality is that as long as the flag burning is done in a safe manner, no other person or property is harmed. The only thing damaged is feelings, and hurt feelings are not a reason for government to punish speech we dislike. You are damaging the argument against censorship.

A ban on flag burning will never happen outside of a constitutional amendment, so any law passed in defiance of Supreme Court precedent would be immediately struck down. Constitutional amendments are very difficult to pass by design, and "blue" states will not agree to a flag burning amendment. A further obstacle is that the conservative movement is by no means unified on this issue. So basically, the only practical effect of supporting this policy is to whip up your most enthusiastic supporters - who are already energized to support you anyway. There is no upside here.

I am asking you to please reverse your position on this issue, and support the basic principle of free speech.

Scott Tibbs

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