In the early morning on November 29, Donald Trump posted the following tweet:
In response to this tweet, Twitter was filled with numerous arguments all day Tuesday that either supported or starkly disagreed with Trump's sentiments. The disagreements mainly stemmed from the fact that burning the American flag is a Constitutional right, protected under the Supreme Court decision Texas v. Johnson in 1989. The highest court in the United States did in fact rule that flag burning constitutes "symbolic speech" and is therefore protected by the First Amendment of our nation's Constitution. Thus, Trump's assertion that citizens should either no longer be citizens or should face jail time as a result of exercising this protected right sparked controversy.
Fresh U caught up with 12 college students from campuses across the nation to discuss the incident and its relationship to First Amendment rights. These students came from numerous backgrounds: Conservative, Liberal, and Libertarian leanings; a multitude of different majors and minors at their universities; and various levels of interest in politics. But regardless of these differences, almost all students interviewed spoke out against Trump's tweet. Their responses are as follows:
Alec Hilton, a freshman Anthropology: Global Health and Environment major at Washington University in St. Louis:
"The funny thing is, by saying 'nobody,' Trump is excluding burning the flag as retirement. If he intends to follow through with his statement, then I'd be in jail or not a citizen. Being an Eagle Scout, I have burned a decent amount of flags to retire them... I understand the point he is trying to get at. Burning a flag is a sign of protest and can be seen as disrespectful. However, one has to understand the reasons why the flag is being burned in the first place."
Barrett Young, a freshman political science and American studies major at George Washington University:
"President-elect Trump's suggestion isn't just unconstitutional, it's a contradiction in terms. If citizens lose their rights by exercising their rights as citizens, it sets a precedent that either A. No rights actually exist or B. No American is actually a citizen. This standard will crumble our legal scrutiny due to its outright lunacy."
Branden Faulkner, a freshman history major at the University of New Mexico:
"To threaten someone with incarceration and loss of citizenship over burning a flag is a frightening response to a First Amendment right by itself. For it to have come from the next leader of the free world is even more terrifying. Burning of flags as a form of protest is a right protected by our first and most important amendment. If our president begins calling for the prosecution of all those saying or doing things he disagrees with, where will it end? The tweet from Donald Trump, our next president, is an example of Trump's horribly misguided sense of unlimited presidential power, and I fear that it will get worse before it gets better."
Conor Wadle, a sophomore political science major at Missouri State University, with minors in communication, public law, and law and society:
"Trump’s comments about flag burning hit a fine line of a concern for a disregard of national concern and banning peaceful protesting. I believe there is some truth to the fact that we need to do something about increasing national disgust and hatred... But, while I do share concern that we need to get the American people to view the United States in a more positive light, I don’t believe punishing people for burning flags is the proper response. While it may be seen as an atrocious act, it’s simultaneously a peaceful act of protest. The moment we start banning people’s ability to peacefully protest is the moment that we’re going against constitutional amendments, and everyone’s right to voice and show their opinion. The consequences that President-Elect Trump has discussed for people who burn for flags stays in line with his trend of going a little too far."
Karly Matthews, Fresh U's Chief Political Correspondent and a freshman at Temple University majoring in journalism and political science with a Spanish minor:
"Donald Trump's words this morning were a direct contradiction to what Republicans stand for. As a young Republican, I stand by the Constitution and its words that give us freedom of expression and the freedom to protest the government. Conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia even supported the decision of Johnson vs Texas, which allows citizens to desecrate the flag, so Trump's words do not align with the beliefs of my party. Of course, I don't support flag-burning as an activity - in fact, it disgusts me - but I support Americans' freedom of expression."
Lexi Jackson, a freshman business strategy and political science double major, Spanish minor at Washington University in St. Louis:
"Trump's tweet is a paradox for those that voted him into office. Many self-proclaimed constitutionalists supported him because of his support of rights like the Second Amendment. Burning the flag is an act of free speech--no matter how distasteful it may seem. For Trump to threaten jail time or loss of citizenship, he contradicts his supposed commitment to constitutional protection and jeopardizes the standard of justice in our society. What happens to a free and fair society of our president can threaten a perversion of our judicial process and constitutional protections in one tweet?"
Mason Trafford, a University of Missouri freshman studying biological sciences with an emphasis in marine conservation:
"I find it interesting that Donald Trump openly fights for the deportation of Muslims, plans the construction of a wall on the border of Mexico and the United States, belittles women and members of the LGBT community, but draws the line at burning the flag. If the people burning these flags are a part of the aforementioned groups of people, why shouldn’t they be allowed? I see the act as a powerful political statement showing how strongly they feel about the election and the future of country. Just recently on Mizzou campus did a group of people burn the American flag at Speaker’s Circle (an area where anyone can go and freely protest). I see no reason for people to show respect to a symbol representing a country that is showing them zero respect."
Nate Sumimoto, a freshman political science and history double major at George Washington University:
"I don't think anyone doubts that free speech is protected by the First Amendment, but there is often a lot of discrepancy as to what free speech actually is. For instance, most people [think] it's okay to ban speech that incites violence against groups of people or screaming fire in a movie theatre. On the other hand, its deemed constitutional to bear swastikas or burn crosses because its a part of a tradition of freedom of political speech. Swastikas are legal because they are symbolic, burning crosses are symbolic, even though they portray great evil and despicable beliefs it is considered symbolic political speech and therefore protected by the constitution. Much the same, burning the flag is an act of symbolic speech that is an act of political speech. Given that that's the case, it needs to be protected by the Constitution and Supreme Court if the sanctity of the First Amendment is to be upheld."
Parker Payne, a freshman at Missouri State University studying piano performance:
"I do think there should be some sort of punishment being either a court sentence or depending on the the degree of the crime, jail time could be useful. But I do think it is...something against the union to burn the flag."
Peter Choi, a sophomore Syracuse University student majoring in policy studies and economics:
"Criminalizing flag burning sets a dangerous precedent for outlawing other First Amendment rights in the future. Supreme Court case Texas v Johnson has ruled that desecration ought to be protected under freedom of speech. However, I find it ironic that President-Elect Trump is taking the same position as his campaign opponent, Hillary Clinton, as she co-sponsored a bill in 2005 that would criminalize flag desecration and in 2006 voted in favor of an amendment banning it."
Rachel Haik, a sophomore Loyola Marymount University student with a communication studies major and an English minor in journalism:
"My hopes of Trump's rash language decreasing once he became President-Elect have proven useless. It's a bit scary to have a President-Elect who's words undermine the First Amendment. Part of being president is protecting the Constitution, and lately, Trump's tweets toward the media and flag burners do not seem very "presidential"--but then again, the same goes for Trump's entire campaign."
Telyse Masaoay, a sophomore at Vanderbilt University studying sociology and medicine, health, & society:
"When I saw Trump's tweet [that] morning, I wasn't even surprised. I saw it as just another move by Trump to appeal to his patriotic, dogmatic base. What really struck me was his call to take away someone's citizenship if they were caught burning the American flag. Despite your feelings about the actual act, it has still been deemed constitutional as an exercise of your First Amendment rights by the Supreme Court. It can be a form of protest, and to silence people who oppose what the American flag stands for in any given instance is, in my opinion, against some of the basic tenets of an American democracy... This is all part of the same rhetoric that, in my view, silences Trump's opposition."
It will certainly be interesting to see how Donald Trump's tweets continue to play a role in his time as our next President. With only 50 days until Trump's inauguration, we still have time to prepare to stand up in defense of our Constitutional rights.
Lead Image Credit: tpsdave via Pixabay