Flag desecration (or flag abuse) is a term applied to various acts that intentionally destroy, damage or mutilate a flag in public, most often a national flag. Often, such action is intended to make a political point against a country or its policies. Some countries have laws forbidding methods of destruction (such as burning in public) or forbidding particular uses (such as for commercial purposes); such laws may distinguish between desecration of the country's own national flag and flags of other countries. Some countries have laws protecting the right to burn a flag as free speech.
- 1 Background
- 2 Australia
- 3 Belgium
- 4 Canada
- 5 Croatia
- 6 Denmark
- 7 Faroe Islands
- 8 Finland
- 9 France
- 10 Germany
- 11 Hong Kong
- 12 Hungary
- 13 India
- 14 Iraq
- 15 Ireland
- 16 Israel
- 17 Japan
- 18 New Zealand
- 19 Norway
- 20 Pakistan
- 21 Panama
- 22 Peru
- 23 Portugal
- 24 Romania
- 25 Saudi Arabia
- 26 South Korea
- 27 Soviet Union
- 28 Serbia
- 29 Sweden
- 30 Switzerland
- 31 Turkey
- 32 United Kingdom
- 33 United Nations
- 34 United States
- 35 Venezuela
- 36 See also
- 37 Notes
- 38 References
- 39 External links
Flags can be destroyed by burning or can be defaced with slogans or daubed with excrement, etc. Flags can be walked upon, spat upon, stoned, shot with guns, cut, ripped, or dragged through the dirt. Flags may simply be used unconventionally: they may be hung upside down or reversed (in some countries, however, this is also conventional protocol to indicate a problem). Toilet paper, napkins, doormats, and other such items may also be manufactured bearing the image of the flag, so that the flag's image will be destroyed or soiled in the course of everyday activities. It is increasingly common to see clothing with the image of flags forming a substantial part of the piece. Views vary as to whether some of this is an act of national pride or disrespect. Such actions may be undertaken for a variety of reasons:
- As a protest against a country's foreign policy.
- To distance oneself from the foreign or domestic policies of one's home country.
- As a protest at the very laws prohibiting the actions in question.
- As a protest against nationalism.
- As a protest against the government in power in the country, or against the country's form of government.
- A symbolic insult to the people of that country.
In common usage, the phrase 'flag burning' refers only to burning a flag as an act of protest. However the United States Flag Code states that "the flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning," ideally by an authorized organization with a suitable ceremony accompanying.
As described below burning or defacing a flag is a crime in some countries. In countries where it isn't a crime the act may still be prosecuted as disorderly conduct, arson or theft if conducted against someone else's property.
During the 2005 Cronulla riots, a Lebanese-Australian youth, whose name has been kept secret, climbed an RSL club building and tore down its flag before setting it on fire. The youth was sentenced to 12 months probation for the destruction of the RSL's property. In October of that year the youth accepted an invitation from the RSL to carry the Australian flag along with war veterans in the Anzac Day march the following year. However, the RSL was forced to withdraw this invitation as it received phone calls from people threatening to pelt the youth with missiles on the day. The head of the New South Wales RSL was quoted as saying that "the people who made these threats ought to be bloody ashamed of themselves".
In 2006, Australian contemporary artist Azlan McLennan burnt an Australian flag and displayed it on a billboard outside the Trocadero artspace in Footscray, Victoria. He called the artpiece Proudly UnAustralian.
Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre worker Adam Thompson burned the Australian flag on the week of Australia Day (2008) celebrations in Launceston's City Park to the cheers of about 100 people, who were rallying against what they call "Invasion Day".
Flag desecration is not forbidden by Canadian law.
In 1990, during heated political times around the Meech Lake Accord, the flag of Quebec was desecrated by protestors in Brockville, Ontario opposed to Quebec's language laws after the Canadian flag had been burnt in protests in Quebec. Televised images of individuals stepping on the Quebec flag were played in Quebec and contributed to the deterioration in relations between Quebec and English Canada. The incident, seen as a metaphor of Canada's perceived rejection of Quebec (and of Quebec's distinctiveness in the demise of the Meech Lake Accord) was invoked by Quebec nationalists during the run-up to the 1995 referendum on Quebec independence and is still remembered today.
In 1999, members of the Westboro Baptist Church from the United States staged a burning of the Canadian Flag outside of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario. This was to protest legalization of same-sex marriage which was being adjudicated by the Canadian court.
Croatian history recalls the burning of the flag of the Kingdom of Hungary during the 1895 visit of Emperor Franz Joseph to Zagreb. Two people involved in the incident, Stjepan Radić and Vladimir Vidrić, later happened to pursue notable careers in politics and literature, respectively.
It is illegal in Denmark, under section 110 (e) of the Danish penal code, to desecrate the flags or national symbols of foreign nations, while legal to burn the Dannebrog, Denmark's national flag. The reasoning of parliament was: the burning of foreign flags falls into the realm of foreign policy, as the burning of the flag of another country could be understood as a threat to that country. The burning of the Dannebrog, on the other hand, does not concern foreign countries, does not fall under foreign affairs, and so remains legal. According to Danish tradition, burning is also the proper way to dispose of a worn flag. According to tradition, care must be observed to ensure that a flag never touches the ground, i.e. even when being disposed of, it should be placed on top of a fire. Flying the flag after sundown is also inappropriate behaviour.
During the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy, Danish flags were burned in demonstrations in various Muslim countries.
According to the Finnish flag lawTemplate:Ref it is illegal to desecrate the flag, treat it in disrespecting manner or remove it from a public place without permission.
According to French law, outraging the French national anthem or the French flag during an event organized or regulated by public authorities is liable for a fine of €7,500 (and six months' imprisonment if performed in a gathering). The law targets outrageous behaviour during public ceremonies and major sports events.
This clause was added as an amendment to a large bill dealing with internal security, in reaction to a football match during which there had been whistles against La Marseillaise, but also to similar actions during public ceremonies. The amendment initially prohibiting such outrage regardless of the context, but a parliamentary commission later restricted its scope to events organized or regulated by public authorities, — which is to be understood, according to the ruling of the Constitutional Council as events organized by public authorities, mass sport matches and other mass events taking place in enclosures, but not private speech, literary or artistic works, or speech during events not organized or regulated by public authorities.
In 2006, a man who had publicly burnt a French flag stolen from the façade of the city hall of Aurillac during a public festival, organized and regulated by public authorities, was sentenced to a €300 fine.
A July 2010 law makes it a crime to desecrate the French national flag in a public place, but also to distribute images of a flag desecration, even when done in a private setting. On December 22, 2010, an Algerian national was the first person to be convicted under the new status, and ordered to pay a €750 after breaking the pole of a flag hung in the Alpes-Maritimes prefecture a day prior.
Under German criminal code (§90a Strafgesetzbuch (StGB)) it is illegal to revile or damage the German federal flag as well as any flags of its states in public. Offenders can be fined or sentenced for a maximum of three years in prison. Offenders can be fined or sentenced for a maximum of five years in prison if the act was intentionally used to support the eradication of the Federal Republic of Germany or to violate constitutional rights. Actual convictions because of a violation of the criminal code need to be balanced against the constitutional right of the freedom of expressions, as ruled multiple times by German's constitutional court.
As for flags of foreign countries, it is illegal to damage or revile them, if they are shown publicly by tradition, event or routinely by representatives of the foreign entity (§104 StGB). On the other hand it is not illegal to desecrate such flags that serve no official purpose (especially including any the one willing to desecrate them brings by himself for that purpose).
On 26 July 1935 a group of demonstrators boarded the SS Bremen, tore the Nazi party flag from the jackstaff and tossed it into the Hudson River. The German ambassador sharply protested, but the protest was resent claiming only a party symbol was harmed and the national flag was not affected. On 15 September 1935 the Reichsflaggengesetz (Reichs flag law) (RGBl. I S. 1145) came into effect, declaring the Nazi flag to be the exclusive national flag of Germany in response to this incident, removing the status of the original flag of the Weimar Republic as co-national flag.
In January 1941, the Flag of Nazi Germany flying from the German consulate in San Francisco, California was slashed and torn down by two United States Navy sailors. They were arrested, tried and convicted of malicious mischief. The German government protested the incident and the United States Department of State expressed their regrets. Later that year, after Germany declared war on the United States, one of the sailors, Harold Sturtevant, reenlisted in the Navy after having been dismissed because of the incident.
Today, according to the criminal code Strafgesetzbuch section 86a, the public use or dissemination of Nazi symbols like the flag is illegal in Germany.
In 1999 Ng Kung Siu and Lee Kin Yun were convicted for desecration of the regional flag of Hong Kong and the National flag. They were found guilty by a magistrate, had the conviction over turned in the High Court but the convictions were restored by the Court of Final Appeal. They were bound over to keep the peace on their own recognisance of $2,000 for 12 months for each of the two charges.
During a demonstration at the beginning of the Hungarian revolution of 1956 someone in the crowd cut out the communist coat of arms from the Hungarian flag, leaving a distinctive hole and others quickly followed suit. The "flag with a hole" became a symbol of the Hungarian resistance.
The Indian flag code is a set of laws that govern the usage of the Flag of India. The Bureau of Indian Standards is in charge of the enforcement of the manufacture of the flag according to the guidelines.
Violation of the code may invite severe punishments and penalties. The code was written in 2002 and merged the following acts: provisions of the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950 (No.12 of 1950) and the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 (No. 69 of 1971).
The Indian Flag Code was often criticized for being too rigid and prevented ordinary citizens from displaying the flag on homes and other buildings. For many years, only Government officials and other Government buildings could unfurl the flag. That changed in 2001 when Naveen Jindal won a court case in the Supreme Court of India to give Indians the right to unfurl the flag publicly. The Indian cricket batsman Sachin Tendulkar was accused of sporting the flag on his cricket helmet bellow the BCCI emblem. He later changed it and placed the flag above BCCI emblem. The flag code was updated in 2005; some new provisions include that the flag cannot be worn under the waist or on undergarments.
In 2004 many copies of the proposed new flag for Iraq were burnt (see Flag of Iraq). There have also been cases of Israeli and American flags being burnt. There were no such examples of burning the current Iraqi national flags, even by political opponents, as both contain the words Allahu Akbar and so that would be seen as a religious insult.
In the Republic of Ireland, desecration of the flag is discouraged by the government, though not illegal. During the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the Guinness beverage company was reprimanded by the Irish Government for selling the Flag of Ireland with a Guinness logo in the centre of the flag. For annual flag-burning by Ulster Loyalists, see Northern Ireland.
In 2007 six teenagers in the South Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam were arrested for burning an Israeli flag. This incident was considered serious by the police and others since the youths were suspected in other acts of vandalism and claimed to be Satanists.
In Japan, under Chapter 4, Article 92 of the Criminal Code, any desecration of recognized foreign nation's national flag and symbol to dishonour is prohibited and punishable by fine or penal labour, but only on the complaint by the foreign government. As of 2007, no such complaint has ever been made. In May 1958, Flag of the People's Republic of China at a postage stamp convention was pulled down and damaged, but as Japan did not recognize People's Republic of China at the time, the law was not applied.
However, there has never been a law explicitly prohibiting desecration of Flag of Japan. Absent such law, the act of desecration is implicitly protected by Article 21 "Freedom of speech" of Constitution of Japan.
In New Zealand, under the Flags, Emblems and Names Protection Act 1981 it is illegal to destroy the New Zealand flag with the intent of dishonouring it. In 2003, Paul Hopkinson, a Wellington schoolteacher, burned the Flag of New Zealand as part of a protest in Parliament grounds at the New Zealand Government's hosting of the Prime Minister of Australia, against the background of Australia's support of the United States in its war in Iraq. Hopkinson was initially convicted under Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981 of destroying a New Zealand flag with intent to dishonour it, but appealed against his conviction. On appeal, his conviction was overturned on the grounds that the law had to be read consistently with the right to freedom of expression under the Bill of Rights. This meant that his actions were not unlawful because the word dishonour in the Flags, Emblems and Names Protection Act had many shades of meaning, and when the least restrictive meaning of that word was adopted Hopkinson's actions didn't meet that standard. This somewhat unusual result was due in part to the fact that the Bill of Rights does not overrule other laws (Hopkinson v. Police).
Desecration of foreign country's flag or national coat of arms was previously banned according to the General Civil Penal Code §95. The ban had however rarely been practiced, and was eventually lifted in 2008.
Comedian Otto Jespersen burned a US flag during a satirical TV show in 2003. During the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy, Norwegian flags were burned in demonstrations in various Muslim countries.
On January 9, 1964 a discussion broke out between Panamanian students and Americans living in the Panama Canal Zone over the right of the flag of Panama to be raised next to the flag of the United States, at this time a disputed territory between these nations. During the scuffle a Panamanian flag carried by Panamanian students was torn. This sparked four days of riots that ended with 22 Panamanians and four Americans dead, and with Panama breaking diplomatic relations with the United States. This event is considered to be very important in the decision to negotiate and sign the Torrijos-Carter Treaties, that allowed that the Panama Canal administration was handed over to the Panamanian Government on December 31, 1999. January 9 is known as Martyrs' Day and it is commemorated in Panama as a day of mourning. On October 21, 2008, United States wrestlers, the Heartbreak Express appeared on the largest interview segment on Panama television where they threw the flag of Panama down and stomped on it. The matter is currently under investigation.
The precise law in Peru is unclear, but such acts are clearly capable of causing outrage. "[T]he Model Leysi Suarez appeared naked photographed using Peru's flag as a saddle while mounted on a horse will face charges that could put her in jail for up to four years for offending patriotic symbols, the country's defence minister said".
Currently, according to article 332 of the Penal Code, "Who publicly, by means of words, gestures or print publication, or by other means of public communication, insults the Republic, the Flag or the National Anthem, the coats of arms or the symbols of Portuguese sovereignty, or fails to show the respect they are entitled to, shall be punished with up to two years imprisonment or a fine of up to 240 days". In the case of the regional symbols, the person shall be punished with up to one year imprisonment or a fine of up to 120 days (fines are calculated based on the defendant's income).
The Portuguese Penal Code (article 323) also forbids the desecration of foreign symbols: "Who publicly, by means of words, gestures or print publication, or by other means of public communication, insults the official flag or other symbol of sovereignty of a foreign State or of an international organization of which Portugal is a member shall be punished with up to one year imprisonment or a fine of up to 120 days." This article applies under two conditions (article 324): that Portugal maintains diplomatic relations with the insulted country, and that there is reciprocity (i.e., that the insulted country would also punish any insult against Portuguese symbols of sovereignty, should they occur there).
In Romania, according to the article 236 of the penal code, any manifestation which expresses contempt for the Romanian symbols (according to the constitution, these are the flag, national day, anthem and coat-of-arms) is punished by imprisonment, from 6 months to 3 years, while the contempt for the symbols of Romanian authorities is also punished by imprisonment, from 3 months to 1 year, or by fine.
This law has been seen in a report of the Press Monitoring Agency, a project financed by the Open Society Institute, as being a potential danger to the freedom of expression because of its vague terms, because it can incriminate opinions.
The flag of Saudi Arabia bears the shahada or Islamic declaration of faith. Because the shahada is considered holy, Saudi Arabia's flag code is extremely strict and even the slightest violation amounts to desecration not only of the flag but also of Islam itself. This has led to several incidents of controversy. In 1994, McDonald's printed carry-out bags bearing the flags of all nations participating in the FIFA World Cup, while Coca-Cola did the same on cans of soda. Because of Saudi outrage, the companies stopped producing those items. Also during the FIFA World Cup, in 2002, Saudi officials protested against printing the flag on a football on the belief that kicking the creed with the foot was totally unacceptable.
The flag of the Soviet Union has been burned many times by protestors against its government's policies. For instance in Brazil by those protesting the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia of 1968, and in New York City in 1985 by protesters against the Soviet War in Afghanistan.
In Serbia, flag desecration is illegal and on May 20, 2009 secretary general of the International Workers' Association Ratibor Trivunac was arrested and punished with 10 days in prison for burning an American flag during the visit of the US Vice President Joe Biden. Due to the mass demonstrations and protests, he was freed from prison two days later.
The desecration of national symbols is not specifically criminal, but flag desecration is prosecuted under the more general clauses against disorderly conduct.
Destruction, removal or desecration of national emblems installed by a public authority (i.e., the Swiss flag, the Swiss coat of arms, the cantonal or municipal flags and coats of arms) is punishable by a monetary penalty or imprisonment of up to three years according to the Swiss federal penal code. The destruction or desecration of privately owned flags or coats of arms is legal.
The flag of Turkey bears the star and crescent over a field of color red that represents the blood of martyrs which is considered sacred. Under the 1983 Turkish flag law, burning the flag is strictly forbidden, punishable by a prison sentence of three years. Displaying or pulling a torn or discolored flag to flagpole is also illegal. Taking down the flag is prohibited and punishable by a prison sentence of eighteen years.
English, Scottish and Welsh law does not have any concept of "flag desecration", however the law in Northern Ireland has varied since its foundation in 1921. 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 as a protest.Template:Ref
British military colours
The Queen's Colours and Regimental Colours are a very important symbol for a British Army regiment and for many regiments in the Commonwealth which have inherited the British Army's traditions. In a Line Regiment the Colour stand consists of these two flags, and damage to such a symbol would be a considered a great insult to the regiment by its members. In the British armed forces, it is usual for flag-bearers to lower flags and standards, even Queen's and Regimental Colours, so that they are draped on the ground, as part of a Royal Salute or during the two-minute silence on Remembrance Sunday. This mark of respect, known as vailing, is not considered to be a desecration of the colours.
In 2006 a United Nations flag was burned during a political campaign in Austin, Texas to protest United Nations policy. The other candidate later claimed that it was an American flag that was burned. In 2009 a UN flag was dragged on the ground to show disrespect in a Tea Party protest in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
The flag of the United States is sometimes symbolically burnt, often in protest of the policies of the American government, both within the country and abroad. The United States Supreme Court in Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989), and reaffirmed in U.S. v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310 (1990), has ruled that due to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, it is unconstitutional for a government (whether federal, state, or municipality) to prohibit the desecration of a flag, due to its status as "symbolic speech."
In 1862, during the Union army's occupation of New Orleans in the American Civil War, the military governor, Benjamin Franklin Butler, sentenced William B. Mumford to death for removing an American flag. In 1864 John Greenleaf Whittier wrote the poem Barbara Frietchie, which told of a (probably fictional) incident in which Confederate soldiers were deterred from defacing an American flag. The poem contains the famous lines:
"Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country's flag," she said.
In 1983, pornographer Larry Flynt was jailed for 6 months for wearing an American flag as a diaper in court.
Today, defacing a flag is an act of protected speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as established in Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989), and reaffirmed in U.S. v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310 (1990).
After these decisions, several "flag burning" amendments to the Constitution have been proposed. On June 22, 2005, a flag burning amendment was passed by the House with the needed two-thirds majority. On June 27, 2006, the most recent attempt to pass a ban on flag burning was rejected by the Senate in a close vote of 66 in favor, 34 opposed, one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed to send the amendment to be voted on by the states.
Flying an American flag upside down is not necessarily meant as political protest. The practice has its origin in a military distress signal; displaying a flag in this manner is "a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property"; it has been used by extension to make a statement about distress in civic, political, or other areas. Upside-down flying of the flag was ruled constitutional in Spence v. Washington, a 1974 Supreme Court ruling.
The flag of the Confederate States of America has sometimes been burned in protest, because of its historical connection with racism. In 2000 protesters from the Jewish Defense League burned Confederate and Nazi flags to protest an arson attempt against a Reno, Nevada synagogue. This was criticised by a representative of the Anti-Defamation League who said that it was more effective to work with the police and other authorities rather than to engage in "tactics which inflame and exacerbate situations."
In 1999 three protesters tore down and burned a Rainbow Flag, standing for gay rights, from the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. The flag had been flying in honor of Gay and Lesbian Pride Month which had just been declared by President Bill Clinton. The flag burners were arrested by the Ohio State Highway Patrol and charged with misdemeanor counts of arson and disorderly conduct.
Since the demonstrations against the refusal by the government to renew the broadcasting license of RCTV (a major TV network), the upside-down flag of Venezuela has been adopted as a symbol of protest for this and other alleged threats to civil liberties. Demonstrators claim that it is a sign of distress and a call for help. However, government and ruling-party officials insist that these demonstrators are desecrating the flag, manipulated by the enemies of the people. An official video sharply criticizing this practice as disrespectful and traitorous was produced, and private TV networks have been ordered to transmit it for free. Globovisión prepended to the video a statement denouncing the message as violative of the Law on Social Responsibility on Radio and Television, "for constituting anonymous official propaganda".
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|40x40px||Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Flag burning|
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