- Trump said that people who burn a flag should be sentenced to jail for at least one year at a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
- “We ought to come up with legislation that if you burn the American flag, you go to jail for one year…we ought to do it,” Trump said while pointing to Oklahoma’s two US Senators in the crowd.
- The US Supreme Court, however, ruled that burning an American flag is constitutionally protected speech under the First Amendment in 1989.
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President Donald Trump said that Congress should pass a federal law mandating that people who burn an American flag should go to jail for at least one year during his Saturday night rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Over the past few weeks, some demonstrators have burned or destroyed American flags at the protests over racism and police brutality that have taken place across the country.
At the Tulsa rally, Trump blasted “left-wing anarchists” for tearing down statues of historical figures like Thomas Jefferson and Christopher Columbus, mentioning one incident in Portland, Oregon where a group of protesters took down a statue of George Washington, wrapped it in an American flag, and set it on fire.
Pointing to Senators Jim Inhofe and James Lankford in the crowd, Trump said, “We ought to come up with legislation that if you burn the American flag, you go to jail for one year…we ought to do it. They talk about freedom of speech and I’m a big believer in freedom of speech, but that’s desecration, that’s a terrible thing.”
—Trump War Room (#TulsaTrumpRally) (@TrumpWarRoom) June 21, 2020
In the 1989 case Texas v. Johnson, the US Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the act of burning an American flag is constitutionally-protected free speech under the First Amendment.
The petitioner in the case, Gregory Lee Johnson, was prosecuted and convicted for violating Texas’ law against flag desecration when he burned a flag outside Dallas City Hall in protest of former President Ronald Reagan.
After a Texas appeals court overturned his conviction, the state of Texas appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled in Johnson’s favor.
In a separate 1990 decision, the Supreme Court also ruled that federal legislation criminalizing flag burning a crime violates the constitution. In United States v. Eichman, the Court struck down the 1989 Flag Protection Act, which made burning or destroying an American flag a federal crime.
Those two decisions mean that only a new constitutional amendment and not an act of Congress could make burning a flag a criminal act.