More than 337,000 Twitter users fled to their phones and engaged with President-elect Donald Trump’s latest tweet Nov. 29.
“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag — if they do, there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” he wrote.
While Scroll does not endorse what Trump has tweeted, we must acknowledge that he expressed his First Amendment rights. We, as citizens of the United States, all have a basic right to free speech; it is founded in the Constitution.
Among the many responses, thousands of those users tweeted to Trump, reminding him that flag burning, though discomforting to many, is a protected form of speech in the First Amendment.
When Gregory Lee Johnson burned the American flag in protest of President Ronald Reagan’s policies in 1989, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Texas v. Johnson, saying the act of flag desecration is “a protected form of symbolic speech.”
The First Amendment protects free speech, symbolic speech and the expression of speech.
Free speech helps promote our “fundamental right,” Boston Globe writer Steven Pinker said.
“The first reason is that the very thing we’re doing when we ask whether free speech is fundamental — exchanging and evaluating ideas — presupposes that we have the right to exchange and evaluate ideas,” he said.
Free speech allows us to express our minds and thoughts at any time, adding to the exchange and evaluation of ideas Pinker wrote about. We exchange ideas about government and how it should run; movies and why plots didn’t work as well as we hoped; social movements and how we can make a change.
There are, however, limits to freedom of speech. Schenck v. United States (1919) established that one cannot yell “fire” in a crowded theater. United States v. O’Brien (1968) established the limit to not burning draft cards in protest of war. Morse v. Frederick (2007) established that school officials can prohibit students from displaying messages that promote illegal drug use.
In a world where social media is prevalent, our ability to express those thoughts has grown. Hashtags such as #JeSuisParis, #BlackLivesMatter and #Election2016, allow us to share our beliefs and expressions of speech on a given social media platform.
#JeSuisParis allowed the world to unite by claiming “I am Paris,” after terrorist attacks took place in Paris, France, in November 2015. Using this hashtag helped users show support for Paris and express sorrow for the events that took place.
#BlackLivesMatter shows us the fight for respect, equality and peace for all African American citizens. Although this movement has created a lot of negativity, all of this speech is still protected under the First Amendment. We see the fight for a change, wanting the world to be better than it has been.
#Election2016 gave us the opportunity to see national and international thoughts on this year’s election. Throughout the election season, we congratulated each other on wins for our preferred candidate: perhaps we felt heartbreak or sadness when our preferred candidate didn’t do as well as we hoped.
We often use our free speech when we feel vulnerable. We feel as though we need to defend our rights and our beliefs more so than before.
When we use a hashtag, we join the conversation. That conversation will differ depending on the hashtag; however, using the hashtags helps us use our free speech and come together in one voice. A voice that can help change the world around us.
“(Twitter) is a place where you can broadcast your raw opinion,” said Charlie Warzel, a senior writer for Buzzfeed, in an interview with NPR. “You can get the news out that, you know, maybe some platforms are wary to broadcast.”
That raw opinion helps make free speech more real, more vulnerable to the thoughts and actions of society.
These platforms allow the ability to learn about others’ foundations of beliefs.
Just because we don’t agree with an individual’s statements or expression of speech does not mean he or she is wrong. That individual’s expression is protected under the First Amendment, and we should work to defend that right.
In this time where people are concerned with the welfare of society, it’s more important now than ever to protect our freedom of speech.
Trump is calling that right into question.
We have a right to say what we think.
What will you say?