CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - Burning and other acts of destruction aimed at the United States’ flag are protected by the U.S. Constitution as forms of free speech, but most American states have their own laws declaring them illegal. An Associated Press analysis found that at least 40 states have similar laws, which occasionally lead to arrests (though seldom, if ever, convictions). A look at the collection of obsolete state laws that live on:
- Many were written many decades ago to bar commercial use of the American flag and include language that, if enforced, would make it illegal in some estates to include a flag in things like advertising. But during the 1960s and ‘70s, some of those laws were used to jail protesters who burned flags as part of demonstrations.
- Most include provisions also intended to protect state flags, though Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi protect the Confederate flag.
- Only Alaska, Wisconsin and Wyoming have no flag-desecration laws. Wisconsin’s was struck down by the state Supreme Court in the 1990s and removed. A handful of other states have modified their laws to remove portions of flag laws while leaving others in place; in some cases, the law doesn’t include the American flag but maintains state-flag protections.
- A timeline of key dates in flag-desecration law: https://www.ushistory.org/betsy/more/desecration.htm
Sources: The First Amendment Center, Independence Hall Association and Associated Press research
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