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Frequently-Asked Questions About Flag Desecration and the Flag Burning Page

So. . is flag burning legal or not?

Kind of.  Here's how I understand it (remember, I'm not a lawyer.  If you're in prison right now, and relying on this page to get you out, I highly suggest contacting someone more qualified than I am)

Most states have laws against flag burning.  But Texas V Johnson (a 1989 Supreme Court decision) ruled that those laws are unconstitutional.  Now, the states haven't taken them off the books, so I guess it's still "illegal."  After the Johnson decision, Congress passed the Flag Protection Act of 1989, which was also overturned in a Supreme Court ruling (US vs Eichman).  It, as well, is still on the books.  But prosecuting attorneys aren't likely to enforce those laws, so police probably won't arrest you for flag burning.  But -- cops still might harass you and hold you in jail for 24 hours for being an Anti-American person.  That ought not to happen, but it does.

Well, what about using the flag for commercial purposes?

Interestingly, that one's clear-cut.  It's absolutely illegal.  The Supreme Court decision Halter v Nebraska way back in 1907 held that you can't use the flag in advertising.  Other cases have upheld that commercial speech doesn't have the same protection as political speech.  So the Republican Party, which uses flags printed on its letterhead, is in clear violation of the Flag Protection Act of 1989, as well as all the other state and federal laws against flag desecration.  It's a wonder no one ever goes to jail for those crimes -- especially used car dealers with those flag pennants.

How many flags are burned every year?

No one knows, and don't listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.  Congress used "seven per year" in a debate a few years back.  Other people say way more than that.  But since it's not an enforced law, the police aren't keeping tabs on it.   You could count the number of publicized ones, but newspapers don't give flag burners much press these days.  You could count how many protests involving flag burnings were registered in advance with the city courthouse, but most radical protestors don't bother to pre-register their flag desecrations.  So. . . no one knows.

I have a debate coming up.  What are the big arguments to use?

There are a whole bunch!  Use the comments section to help if you'd like.  Here are my favorites:

1 -- The word "desecration" implies that the flag is sacred, and the government (separation of church and state) can't say that something is sacred.

2 -- Passage of this amendment would result in peaceful protestors benig arrested for making political statements, something that happens in China, Iraq, or the former Soviet Union. Not something that happens in America.

3 -- The Boy Scouts burn flags -- it's the only way to respectfully retire them. So when a protestor gets arrested for it, it's not the BURNING that they're being arrested for. it's the thoughts in their minds at the time. In America, we shouldn't arrest people for their thoughts.

4 -- People who DO burn the flag in protest do it for one reason more than any other protest of anti-flag-burning laws. If you want to "protect the flag" the best thing to do would be to leave things the way they are and allow a handful of disrespectful people to desecrate a flag now and then. If you pass that law, I will guarantee thousands of flags burnt in protest.

5 -- If I was arrested under the new flag burning law, the first legal argument I would make would be one of selective enforcement. The same equality-philosopy that says you can't go around only arresting Mexican-Americans when you want to enforce the new speeding law works against flag burning laws. If they arrested me (a political writer) but they let the thousands of people with little flags improperly displayed on their car windows go, they are discriminating against my political beliefs. Hundreds of thousands of people desecrate the flag daily in the US, but only a handful would be singled out for their political belief under the new law. This makes the "flag burning law" absolutly unenforcable. Either they would have to let me go, or they would have to start putting EVERYONE in jail. Check out the page about how to define "desecration" to see exactly how many people would be arrested.

My teacher won't let me use a website as a source unless I can prove the writer is an expert.  What are your qualifications?

Well, I'm a political activist and writer, and I've been running this site for nearly 10 years now.  I'm doing it on a voluntary basis, and I've really never made any money doing it.  That said, I'm not a poli-sci major or anything.  But I have been interviewed as an "expert" by plenty of TV news shows and newspapers.  I've had several editorials published in national newspapers.  And the site's been featured on CNN.  How can you tell that the information is accurate?  Well, you can't really.  Except that most of the "facts" on it have been taken from the Congressional Record, and most of what else is on the site is personal opinion.   If you're filling out one of those "website evaluation" forms, I'll make it easier for you.  The site gets updated about once a year, or when something really important happens.  The site is not run for profit, or by a company -- just by one guy who cares about the topic.  There isn't any detailed "contact information" because I don't want you calling me or dropping by.  No offense.   If you need to get a hold of me, email is the best way to do it. 

Is there a bias on the site? 

You betcha.  I'm totally opposed to any laws that would outlaw flag burning.   The whole purpose of the site, really, is to stop those laws.  (If a little education or dialog happens along the way, that's great.)  That said, I'm totally open to all sides, and willing to publish arguments from both angles.  I don't have anything to hide -- if I allow both sides to speak their minds, I'm sure that reasonable people will realize that my side is right.  You should always be wary of people who claim they're right but don't tell you what the other guy is saying. 

How do I cite your webpage in my bibliography?

Here's the important information: 
Author: Warren S. Apel,
URL: http://www.esquilax.com/flag ,
title: The Flag-Burning Page. 

Here's how I've seen it done in bibliographies:
Apel, Warren S. The Flag-Burning Page. online at <http://www.esquilax.com/flag>.

You might want to check with your teacher or your school's style manual. There are several citation styles to pick from!

It's also important for citation of webpages to include the date you viewed the site. Yours might look like this:

Apel, Warren S. (2006): http://www.esquilax.com/flag [2008-05-07]
Apel, Warren S. The Flag-Burning Page. online at <http://www.esquilax.com/flag> [viewed 2008-05-07]

How can I contact Gregory "Joey" Johnson?

Here's the most recent information I have.  It might not be accurate any longer.   Johnson is the national spokesperson for the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, and is organizing in South Central Los Angeles. He is available for interviews and public speaking, and can be contacted through Ed Hasbrouck, whose email is edward@hasbrouck.org.


Warren S. Apel