The First Amendment of the constitution is one of the best parts of America. It allows people to say all sorts of things like “wow, the last episode of family guy was pretty terrible.” On a more serious note, it allows you to say things such as “America is an awful country and is filled with corruption” without your head ending up on a pike like you’re in Mortal Kombat. However, the United States president disagrees with the First Amendment and legal history regarding court cases.
Donald Trump has been holding rallies across the country since he won the presidency over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Trump’s recently held rally was a disappointment for the campaign, but he made a remark that stood out from his usual anti-democrat rant. During his speech about left-wingers tearing down statues, he told the crowd that he believes the government should work to make legislation that would make burning the United States flag a criminal offense resulting in one year of jail. Besides being wildly unconstitutional, this action directly spits in the face of Freedom of Speech.
The act of whether burning the U.S. flag is legal should not be a question as the Supreme Court decided in favor of the action falling under the 1st Amendment. Texas v. Johnson was a controversial case where Gregory Lee, a protester who was protesting both presidential candidates, burned the American flag in Dallas, Texas. While the previous events took place in 1984, the Supreme Court reviewed the case in March 1989. After months of debate, the Court released their 5–4 ruling, which states that destroying the U.S. flag was an action protected under the First Amendment. The act of burning the flag would fall under the protection of speech, so the government could not prohibit “expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”
In Tulsa, Donald Trump’s speech was not the first time he tried to contest the First Amendment. During his 2016 campaign, he told his base during a rally that he wants to open up the libel laws so that he could sue news organizations “So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.” Trump’s 2016 speech has also already had a ruling by the Court with New York Times v Sullivan in 1964. Another instance of Trump not understanding or caring about freedom of speech is when he sued comedian Bill Maher for $5 million over a joke.
The broader issue is that some people do not understand the concept of free speech in the United States. One of the primary purposes of freedom of speech is to protect those who actively oppose whatever the mainstream narrative is. The easiest way to determine if someone truly believes in the 1st Amendment is by observing their reaction to speech or expression where they disagree. It is effortless to be in favor of free speech when someone says “donuts taste good,” “people should take a shower daily,” or “Taylor Swift generally makes bad music” because most people agree with those statements.
While a person could cry at the thought of someone bashing their favorite pop star, it will not bring the level of controversy like taking a knee during the national anthem will. When you have massive amounts of people that think expressions such as a knee should be outlawed and punished, it shows who believes in free speech. In scenarios that could be considered controversial, both sides of the political spectrum should uphold the 1st Amendment.
If a conservative agrees that Ben Shapiro should be allowed to speak on college campuses, but wants to throw someone in prison for burning a flag, the person does not believe in free speech. The same rule applies to a left-leaning individual who wants to ban someone like Stephen Crowder from giving an address. The First Amendment should not be a political tool used to prop up ideas you agree with while being hostile to any ideological framework outside of your comfort zone. This misunderstanding or lack of care for free speech is why it is troublesome that Trump’s direct violation of it during his speech in Tulsa received cheers from his base. While he is open to say what he wants, free speech must not become a partisan issue.