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Is it a crime to burn the American flag as an act of political protest?

Illustration by Sahyim "Sage" Chung, L.A. Youth archives

The correct answer is no. The Supreme Court ruled in Texas v. Johnson (1989) and in United States v. Eichman (1990) that burning the flag is protected free speech. Unfortunately, in an L.A. Youth survey in January testing readers’ knowledge of their First Amendment rights, only 43 percent answered this question correctly.

In late June the U.S. Senate fell just one vote short of approving an amendment to the Constitution that essentially would have made burning an American flag a crime. Sixty-six U.S. senators, including California Senator Diane Feinstein, voted in favor of the amendment. California Senator Barbara Boxer voted against the proposed amendment.

L.A. Youth decided to find out what some teens in Los Angeles thought of flag burning and whether it should be illegal. These interviews were conducted by Melanie Boysaw, 15, S.O.C.E.S; Azadeh Hosseinian, 17, California Academy of Math and Science; Chris Lee, 16, Walnut HS; Shannon Matloob, 15, Beverly Hills HS; and Lily McGarr, 16, Santa Monica HS.

First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

“I don’t think it’s right. Why would you do that? I mean, I know some people who would die for the flag. You must really, really, really, not like your country. It’s disrespectful.”
Jashon Hampton, 17, Fairfax HS

“I would feel disrespected if someone I knew burned the flag. I’m totally offended. Yet, I understand how it is protected by the First Amendment.”
Jacob Bouzajlou, 18, Santa Monica College

“No, because it expresses what people think and it’s freedom of speech. Even though it’s OK to do it, I would never because I think it’s disrespectful.”
Gemina Rustrian, 16, Los Angeles HS

“Yes, because … it [the flag] represents the country.”
Margarita Dimatulac, 17, Marshall HS

“No, it interferes with the First Amendment rights.”
Jill Casimiro, 17, Beverly Hills HS

“No, we have rights and we should be able to have the right to burn flags but we should have limits.”
Markus Lingao, 18, Daniel Murphy Catholic HS

“I’m not offended by flag burning at all, it’s an individual’s choice and it is protected by the First Amendment.”
Riza Soriano, 16, Fairfax HS