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Flag desecration
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Flag desecration

Flag "desecration" is the intentional defacing or dishonoring of a flag, most often a national flag, though other flags are defaced as well. Often, it is intended to make a political point against a country or its policies.

Some countries have laws forbidding specific acts of flag "desecration" (such as burning) or forbidding "improper use" (such as use for commercial purposes). Often such laws only apply to the country's own flag.

Table of contents
1 Forms
2 The United States
3 United Kingdom
4 Ireland
5 New Zealand
6 See also
7 External links


Flags can be destroyed by burning or ripping. They can also be defaced, such as with slogans, fecal matter, or dirt. More generally, flags can be treated disrespectfully, being walked upon, spat upon, or dragged through the dirt. Flags may simply be used improperly: such as being hung upside down or reversed. Finally, flags may be "disrespected", for example by casting scorn upon it, refusing to salute it, and so forth.

Flag "desecration" may express various opinions or feelings:

Flags may also be burnt, in some cultures, as a respectful way of disposing of a flag that is no longer of use, or has been worn out or defaced.

The United States

Internationally, the American flag is a frequent target of flag "desecration" protests (of all kinds), particularly in the Middle East. In most cases, anger at US foreign policy or Anti-Americanism are the reasons for such acts.

Domestically, desecrating the flag is an act of protected speech under the First Amendment to the Constitution, according to the Supreme Court's ruling in the 1989 flag burning case, Texas v. Johnson. Though prohibitions on public fires in general are permissible, for example, laws that discriminate on the expressive content of the act of flag burning are not.

Since the Supreme Court's decision, there have been many proposals in Congress to amend the Constitution to prohibit flag burning, but none have been successful. A federal law prohibiting flag "desecration" was invalidated in United States v. Eichman, under the same reasoning (and the same voting divisions among the justices) as Texas v. Johnson.

The U.S. Flag Act lays down clear rules on the use and misuse of the flag, stating for example: "No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform". The law does allow for the flag to be worn as a patch if is properly respected. Similarly, the act states the flag "should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper". In recent years, this statute has been all but ignored.

The ritualized burning of the American flag is considered an appropriate way to dispose of a damaged or soiled flag. According to The Flag Burning Page, "the American Legion and Boy Scouts burn thousands of flags every year in respectful retirement ceremonies".

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom law does not have any concept of flag "desecration". The Union Flag of the United Kingdom and the tricolour of the Republic of Ireland are often defaced or burnt in Northern Ireland as a political provocation or a protest.


Flag "desecration" is often taken very seriously no matter how minor. For example, during the 2002 Football World Cup, the Guinness beverage company were reprimanded by the Irish Government for selling the Irish Tricolour with a Guinness logo in the centre of the flag.

New Zealand

Paul Hopkinson, a Porirua schoolteacher, burned the NZ flag in 2003, he was charged with destroying a New Zealand flag with intent to dishonour it, but was found not guilty because flag burning is a form of free speech. He was the first person charged under a 22 year old New Zealand law banning the destruction of the flag. He did it again in July 2004 and was arrested again.

See also

External links