Trump vs Flag Burning: Israel Also Tried to Crack Down on Flag Desecration

Previous attempt to legislate against flag desecration have consistently been rejected by the Supreme Court on the grounds that they violated the First Amendment.

FILE PHOTO: Tunisian protesters burn the U.S. flag during a demonstration outside the U.S. embassy in Tunis September 12, 2012.
Tunisian protesters burn the U.S. flag during a demonstration outside the U.S. embassy in Tunis September 12, 2012. Reuters

Americans who burn the United States flag must face “consequences,” such as a year in prison or having their citizenship revoked, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted on Tuesday.

Trump's outburst was apparently provoked by news reports of ant-Trump protesters burning the flag and the announcement by a Massachusetts college that it would lower the campus flag in the wake of Trump's election victory.

"Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” the President-elect wrote on Twitter.

Interestingly, Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton co-sponsored a bill in 2005 that would make burning the American flag a criminal act punishable by one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Laws prohibiting the burning or desecration of the American flag have been consistently struck down by the Supreme Court, according to the Politico website. The most recent rejection of such a law was in 1990, when the judges ruled that it violated the First Amendment of the Constitution, which protects freedom of speech.

There have also been multiple attempts to enact a constitutional amendment that would allow the government to ban flag desecration, but they, too have been unsuccessful. The last was voted down by the Senate in 2006, with three Republican senators, including current Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, voting against it.

Flag politics in U.S. & Israel

Students at Hampshire College, a liberal arts school in Amherst, Massachusetts, lowered the flag to half-staff immediately after the presidential election in a “reaction to the toxic tone of the months-long election,” the college said in a statement reported by The New York Times.

The following day, it said, officials decided to allow the flag to remain lowered for a period of time while students and faculty members at the college discussed and confronted “deeply held beliefs about what the flag represents to the members of our campus community.”

The flag was burned two days later, in an episode that campus police are still investigating.

Trump's reverence for the flag is echoed in Israel, where a flag desecration bill passed its preliminary Knesset reading last March but has yet to be finalized. In terms of the bill, those convicted would be deprived of the right to medical services through the national health insurance system, as well as unemployment benefits and student scholarships, in addition to being fined or imprisoned.

The legislation was proposed by members of the Likud Knesset faction following at least two well-publicized incidents in which Israeli artists were arrested after using the Israeli flag in scatological artistic creations. One filmed herself defecating on the flag, while the other stuck a flag up his backside during a stage performance.

Not only flag desecration keeps Israeli politicians awake at night. Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev announced in May that she intended mandating the flying of the flag over all cultural and sports institutions, as well at every event in which an official representative (such as a Knesset member) is present.

Regev’s aides said subsequently that it was unclear whether legislation would be needed for her plan, or whether it could simply be made a requirement for obtaining funding.