Trump's tweet on flag-burning sparks online debate

The president-elect's tweet on the subject is causing a controversy.

President-elect Donald Trump is sparking debate over burning the American flag. While it may offend you, the act isn’t against the law.

The controversy has reignited after the election, when protesters burned the flag on a Massachusetts college campus.

Now Mr. Trump is firing back tweeting: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the America flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”

Should flag burning be a crime?  The question has set social media on fire, as evidenced by this post on the 10News Facebook page.

Keith says, "Of course not, infringing on rights like free speech is an opening to taking away our other rights…"

Dorothy writes: "I think if you disrespect the flag you disrespect the people who fought for your freedoms.  Yes, go straight to jail as a federal crime!"

No matter where you stand on flag burning, a Stetson University Law professor tells 10News that it's out of the future president's hands to punish people for doing it.

“I was concerned because the president-elect reflected a pretty limited, if not nonexistent, understanding of the First Amendment,” says Louis Virelli, Stetson University Professor of Constitutional Law.

Virelli says the Supreme Court has taken a stand on this two times, once after a Texas man was convicted for burning a flag outside of the Republican National Convention.

“Twice in 1989 and 1990, the court had the opportunity to decide if you could punish somebody for burning the American flag, both times the court said no,” says Virelli.

The Constitution also says the government can't take your citizenship against your will.

“They're not very patriotic, and why would they burn our flag?  If they don't like it in this country get out of this country and go somewhere else,” says Vietnam veteran Don Phipp. When asked what he thinks when he sees people burning the American flag he replies, “I’d like to break their arm.”

“Burning the flag is stupid, but I protect people's right to do it,” Virelli says that was the opinion of Justice Antonin Scalia, whose opinion the president-elect has said he respects. Mr. Trump will now fill the late Justice's spot on the Supreme Court. 

But what can he do to make his tweet a reality? “Not very much, other than try to persuade Congress to amend the Constitution,” Virelli.

“He says some strange things, sometimes I'm not sure he's going to do all of them,” Phipp says.

American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Howard Simon tells 10News,  “A tweet is not a serious public policy proposal.  Surely, upon reflection -- and certainly consultation with lawyers -- President-Elect Trump will realize that the right to dissent and protest, including protesting in ways that may offend many people, such as burning an American flag, is one of the things that is not only protected by the First Amendment as our Supreme Court declared more than 25 years ago, but it is one of the things that makes America great.”

© 2018 WTSP-TV


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