Constitutional Law–Freedom of Speech–Desecration of National Symbols As Protected Political Expression

Protest groups have long recognized the publicity value of engaging in dramatic kinds of symbolic behavior to express their disapproval of government policy, and recently they have resorted to the desecration of traditionally “sacred” symbols to achieve this end. Recourse to conduct offensive to the patriotic and religious sensibilities of large segments of the population seems to have paralleled the advent of widespread civil disobedience as an instrument of political persuasion. Specifically, dissent over the Vietnam war has produced a number of incidents involving public disrespect for the American flag. Thus, a need has arisen to analyze the extent to which the first amendment protects this particular form of expression.