The Act of Flag Burning

Flag burning is a method of flag desecration.  It is the act of intentionally destroying, damaging or mutilating a flag in public using fire. Such an action is often intended to make a political point against a policy or a country. Most countries have laws that forbid any form of destruction that may also include the use of the flag in commercial purposes.  Apart from the act of flag burning there are other ways of flag desecration. These include; urinating or defecating on it, defacing it with slogans, daubing it with excrements, stepping on it, splitting on it, stoning, shooting, hurling insults at it, cutting or  ripping it, dragging it on the ground, using it unconventionally (hanging it upside down for no good reason, using it as toilet papers, napkins, and doormats) (Goldstein, 2006).

In addition, the act of flag burning is done by the military, rebels, freedom fighters, activists, criminals and terrorist. It is usually performed in two main courses. It should be noted, however, that the military forces of America have the right to burn old and distorted flags as a way of them final respect. The ceremony is official and constitutional. On the other hand, criminals, freedom fighters, rebels, terrorists and activists burn the flag to communicate their ideologies to the government.

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In most countries, flag burning is illegal. It is seen as disrespect to the nation, the founding fathers and the future generations. Those found guilty are prosecuted. In countries where flag burning is not a crime, perpetrators are persecuted either for doing it at the wrong place or because of creating disorders. Generally, flag burning, except the act of final respect, is illegal and not accepted as a constituent of freedom of speech.

From a legal perspective, there are several reasons that may cause the burning of the flag. For example, it may occur as the protest against the country’s foreign policies when the government imposes laws that interfere with the way the country relates with other countries. Such laws may cause public indignation leading to demonstrations, which may sometimes result to burning of the national flag being an indication that the citizens are against such policies. In such a case, the state may either change the policies or educate its people on their purposes. However, such action is inappropriate and disrespectful in terms of citizen ethics, and; therefore, the government should take legal measures against the offender.

Different countries have different ways of handling this issue. In the Middle East, this act is given the same weight as treason while, in other countries like the USA, the offenders get punishments such as a jail term or are forced to apologise to the state as recommended by the constitution. Most African countries do not have laws that prohibit such actions. Therefore, an individual may be unpunished. In any case, however, a person burning the national flag shows a deep disrespect to one’s country.

Another reason would be to distance oneself from the foreign or domestic policies of one’s home country. Some policies or laws issued by the country may offend the citizens. It may lead to the act of flag burning, which would be an indication that one is not contended with the policies of the country. It can be regarded as a message to the government to either change the law or develop a better one (Goldstein, 2006).

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As it is stated in the majority of constitutions in the world, there is freedom of expression. However, flag burning is a sign of extreme disrespect and cannot be considered an act of heroism. There are legal actions taken to such persons since a failure to punish those guilty would indicate government’s carelessness regarding its reputation on the international arena. A protest against the government in power in the country or the country’s form of government can be one of the reasons to the action in question being a clear indication that people require changes. Therefore, such an act would mean  that the government does not carry its duties and activities in accordance with the citizens’ opinions. In this case, the government should change its way of governance and encourage public participation in decision making.

A special point to be discussed is a situation when the flag is being burned by the public to test the government’s laws or judicial system, which is viewed as a protest against the laws prohibiting the actions in question. Should such action be taken with such motive, most governments take it as treason, and persecute actions taken. Though it is not a common case, some countries have already experienced it. In this case, there is a need to demonstrate that national symbols of unity should be upheld with the appropriate respect.

One of the reasons is a symbolic insult to the people of that particular country. It may be done by the citizens of another country. In this case, the government is required to cooperate with the country of the origin of the offender. If the country of the offender’s origin fails to take the punitive measures, it would be considered as an encouragement of the action.

Burning or defacing a flag is a crime in most countries. In those states where it is not considered a crime the act may still be taken as a disorderly conduct. Different countries have different ways of handling the issue. For example, in Argentina, desecration of the national flag, national anthem, and coat of arms is illegal as stated by the penal code, Article 222. The country imposes one to four years of imprisonment in case if such action takes place. In Australia, it is not illegal to destroy the flag shown by the way the government has handled previous cases. An example is a situation when a boy climbed to the top of the tower, put the flag on fire, but, instead of being imprisoned, he was sentenced to 12 months’ probation. In Austria, such action is illegal under Article 248 whereby the offenders can be fined or punished with up to 6 months imprisonment. In Brazil, Law # 5700 Section 14 points different ways to handle the situation. In the countries like Iraq, the action is taken not only as treason, but also as blasphemy since the flag has the writing “God is great.” Such act results to life imprisonment (Charney, 2009).

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However, should the flag be damaged by a disaster, it can be burnt, but it should follow a due process. The flag of most countries is described as holy. Destroying of flags follows certain stages that include making a fire. It can be a campfire of medium size. Then the flag is lowered and folded. The folded flag is carefully placed on the fire. Folding the flag is an indication of respect. Later, a moment of silence follows in order to show respect to the flag. Pledge of allegiances follows, and the fire is completely put off. Apart from burning, burying of flag can be made.


In conclusion, flag burning is an act of putting a flag into the fire to destroy it. Flag burning is done by the military, rebels, freedom fighters, activists, criminals or terrorists. Burning of the flag can be done illegally or legally. Should it be done illegally, then a legal action must be taken against the offender as explained above. In the case the act of flag burning is done on a legal basis, it is regarded as a sign of respect to the country.

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