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The Flag-Burning Debacle

Donald J. Trump, that bastion of intellectually stimulating discourse, set Twitter aflame when he tweeted out that “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 left suddenly pretended to care about the Constitution and appealed en masse to Supreme Court decisions protecting flag burning as free speech. Though hilariously, Hillary Clinton sponsored a 2005 bill to outlaw flag burning.

Here’s the thing though: Federal bans on American flag burning should not take place– not because it is free speech– but because flags are property owned by private property owners and the Federal Government has no authority over the use of private property. Rather than being a “free speech” issue, the more fundamental principle here is that it is a private property issue.

The purpose of the Bill of Rights, of which the 1st Amendment is a part, is not to declare 10 specific exceptions where the Federal Government cannot take action. No, the Constitution was written in such a way so as to prevent all actions except those that had been expressly delegated by the States and to the Federal Government. In this way, the Bill of Right was actually unnecessary because the Federal Government was never delegated power in those areas anyways. It was only added as a precaution against the Federalist tendencies to nationalize everything.

From a strict Constitutionalist perspective, the answer is simple: the Federal Government does not have delegated authority to make decisions regarding the proper use and treatment of flags. So-called Constitutionalists never make this argument, however, because doing so would reveal the unconstitutional nature of so much of the GOP’s actions since, well, its inception.

Now, the libertarian answer is obvious: the government acts contrary to its intention (prosecuting those who breach the property rights of others) when it is the one breaching the property rights of the owners of the flag. Easy peasy.

However, I do want to point out that there is no reason to jump to the other extreme and call those who burn flags heroic. It seems to me that such a juvenile and disruptive activity is intended merely to get attention and offend others. Look: people get offended at that kind of stuff. Why not challenge other people’s worldviews with reason and intellect? There is no need, in my opinion, to feel like we as libertarians are accomplishing something when we rejoice when a flag is burned.

We ought to live in a respectable and civilized manner. That’s how we win the future.

The deeper into libertarian theory, economic theory, and US history without all the State-sponsored propaganda one gets, the more disillusioned one become about all the symbols of American patriotism. If America itself is to be conflated with the Federal Government and its vast PR efforts, there is little reason to let one’s emotion get wrapped up in the flag.

There are some who say that the flag is nothing without the Federal Government and therefore is necessarily statist; there are others who view the flag as symbolic of a liberty-oriented ideal and therefore see the Federal Government as an enemy of that symbol.

There’s no libertarian position on that matter. Whatever your opinion I always recommend two courses of action: 1) don’t go out of your way to offend those who view things differently (though if offense is a byproduct of honesty and intellectual battle, so be it); and 2) don’t get so easily offended! Toughen up and defend your position.

As for me, I tend to prejudge that most flag-burners as silly leftist types and therefore roll my eyes; I also roll my eyes when someone gets offended at flag burning, as if it somehow harms them; and I also wish we didn’t have to get caught up in such ridiculous arguments.

As for Trump, of course his statement is absurd and anti-liberty. I also think nothing will come of it.

Published in C.Jay Engel