Denmark is unexplained in that it has protections against desecrating any flag—except its own. Ole Jensen - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

A symbol provided to represent something an effective or influential—a person, a sporting activities team, a religion—also renders itself fragile to destruction. The isn’t simple to, say, destroy a country, however you can destroy a symbol of that country fairly easily, and there’s no symbol much more identified v a nation, and also thus much more commonly destroyed in protest, 보다 a national flag.

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In the unified States, the supreme Court has been clear and also consistent in the opinion the the desecration the the Stars and also Stripes is one American right, anchored in the first Amendment. To change this, as has been continually proposed, would be very difficult, requiring—from a viciously separated Congress—a two-thirds poll on a constitutional amendment, complied with by ratification through at the very least 38 fractious states. In short, it’s no likely.

How nations treat the damage of their nationwide symbols varies about the world. The the unified States has such strong protections for flag burning renders it quite unusual. Many other nations, including plenty of generally viewed as progressive and permissive, have some type of flag-desecration legislations on their books. These regulations are, often, a fascinating blend of the seemingly arbitrary and also the desire to suppress legit protest.

Flag burning ended up being a common protest act in the 1960s. Here, protesters burn small souvenir flags along Nixon’s inaugural parade route in 1969. Everett Collection historical / Alamy share Photo

The ide of a national flag, or even a nation in general, is not an especially old. Nations as we think of them didn’t really exist until the 17th and also 18th centuries; prior to that, there were territories, kingdoms, empires, and various other polities and geographic entities, yet no universally recognized principle of nationhood, with details borders and governments and rules for interaction with each other. Flags themselves are very old, of course, but until the age of Sail lock were greatly used for communication, or come identify much more localized groups, such as a details family line or army unit. As nationwide symbols, castle didn’t begin to arise until the mid-1800s, and also it to be a if longer prior to they became a seeming requisite for statehood.

Because flags are fairly recent developments, the ide of flag burning, or flag desecration of any type of sort, is a fairly recent idea as well. Effigies to be a much more common kind of big-concept protest before the contemporary era. In the unified Kingdom, it has been a legacy to burn one effigy that the Pope, or of fail Catholic plotter man Fawkes, for numerous years. Leader embodied the state, for this reason in the lack of other symbols the a legal territory, people shed representations of details people.

Flags have actually several advantages over effigies. They’re cheaper and also easier to get than a reasonable likeness the a human—and fairly flammable, depending on material. Flag burning really ended up being a go-to tactic in the United claims in the 1960s, during the Vietnam War, but approximately the world, burning a flag has long to be a simple, effective means of protesting a commonwealth government.

Governments have some stake in this, together flag burn is many obviously a form of protest against them, often carried out by persecuted minority teams as a way to raise awareness (or through irate human being in an additional nation). Governments don’t normally want negative publicity, or civilization angrily pointing out their shortcomings. In the sense, banning the action is no so different from proactively breaking increase a protest march through tear gas or worse. “If it’s a crime come burn the flag since it’s the flag, the only reason the federal government is doing that is since it disagrees with the article the protester is trying come convey,” claims Brian Hauss, a staff attorney at the American civil Liberties Union who concentrates on free speech issues.

As seen in one 18th-century illustration that a man Fawkes celebration, effigies were popular targets for destruction. Universal history Archive/Universal Images group via Getty Images

There are various other reasons because that these legislations as well. Denmark, for example, bans the burn of any flag, through one exception: the Danish flag itself. According to Danish law, burning the flag the a foreign country is a provocation that can hurt Denmark’s condition in the people community. Burning the Danish flag, though? Fire it up; some even say that burning is the accepted means to dispose that a Danish flag in Denmark, though that doesn’t specifically show up in the law.

Australia is just one of the few nations, along with the united States, Canada, and Belgium, come explicitly enable flag burning. As in the unified States, this hasn’t stopped legislators there from attempting to ban the protest act, or at least carry out the politics appearance that attempting to ban it. Throughout the violent 2005 race riots known as the Cronulla riots, a Lebanese-Australian teenager burned an Australian flag. He to be charged and also prosecuted, too; not for burn a flag, yet for stealing and destroying personal property. This usage of other laws to prosecute acts of flag burning is a usual practice: fees may include disturbing the peace, theft, damage of property, arson, and also other crimes, in lieu of symbolic desecration.

China, on the other hand, is going tough in the various other direction. In 2017, the country passed an revised that significantly increases the penalties and the limit of that is symbol-desecration laws. Offenders deserve to be hit through jail regards to up to 3 years because that acts such as mocking the national anthem by to sing it in a sarcastic voice. Burning, defacing, or stomping on the nationwide flag is covered, too.

A most the countries that have such legislations on the books don’t usually bother through the enforcement side. France, ~ above the various other hand, actually prosecutes. In 2010, an Algerian man, furious with the extremely poor customer company he was receiving at a local federal government office, grabbed a Tricolore and snapped its wooden pole in half. He to be forcibly restrained and also fined—not for damage of property, but for “insulting” the flag.

Indian nationwide hero and cricketer Sachin Tendulkar once got in hot water because that cutting a cake with the Indian flag top top it. PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images

“Insult” is a vast brush. India prefers bonkers specificity, with regulations so granular the they covering much an ext than yes, really desecration. The country legislates which next of a room a flag have to be installed in, what kind of material is allowed, who can mount a flag top top a auto (only government or armed forces personnel, and also only few of them), the order in which the Indian flag have to be placed when displayed with other nationwide flags, and also the details weight of one square foot of flag material. Violate any type of of these and you’re already afoul that the flag laws. Periodically it doesn’t even take a flag at all; in 2007, a petition to be filed versus cricketer and also national hero Sachin Tendulkar for cutting a cake that had actually the flag on it.

Israel is an additional country v an wild stance toward symbolic protest including flags. The government, in 2016, dramatically raised the gaue won penalty because that conviction. Inflation and not one yet two separate new currencies do it difficult to monitor just how much that went up, but the brand-new penalty is a maximum well of over $16,000 and also up to 3 years in prison. Last year, a Palestinian protestor stomped up and down on an Israeli flag as component of a protest against the Israeli army shooting human being through the Gaza fence. That is not nearly the just one to it is in prosecuted because that flag desecration in Israel.

Those fines will certainly hurt, however sometimes such develops of punishment are as symbolic as a flag itself. In Mexico, flag desecration is illegal, yet not often prosecuted. A notable exemption came in 2008, when, after a really long legit battle, famous poet Sergio Witz was found guilty that desecrating the mexican flag—in verse. In 2002, he published “La patria entre mierda,” or “The Motherland amongst the Shit.” “I clean mine ass v the flag,” that wrote, along with “I dry my to pee on the flag of mine country,” and a pair of lines around how the flag to produce nothing yet nationalist vomit. Witz has actually later conceded that the city is not his finest work.

Ronald Reagan speak to the Republican nationwide Convention in 1984, wherein a flag-burning protestor initiated the process that caused protection because that the practice. Peter Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

In any kind of case, in 2008, a judge gave Witz a symbolic good of 50 pesos—about $2.50—as a “warning” to those that abuse freedom of speech, according to an short article in El Universal. Witz has actually said the fine is ridiculous, and he refuses to pay it.

For a lengthy time, the United says was every one of these places and also none. Before 1989, a lining 48 that 50 states had some type of flag-burning legislation on the books. However a case called Texas v. Johnson, in which a young protester was tried because that burning the American flag throughout the 1984 Republican nationwide Convention, worked out things. In a 5–4 decision in 1989, the can be fried Court asserted flag burning to be defended political decided under the very first Amendment, automatically invalidating those 48 state laws.

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It’s not challenging to view a pattern connecting few of the nations that are serious about their flag-desecration laws—they have governments detailed for active, even aggressive, responses to dissent and also protest. Take it note, in situation the united States ever does pass a constitution amendment to ban flag burning.