The complicated ethics of flag-burning: Students plan to burn ISIS flag on campus

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Sometime this spring, an ISIS flag may be smoldering on the grounds of UVU.

For centuries, symbolic burnings, including those of flags, have been a popular form of protest. It’s a straightforward gesture that clearly states, “I disapprove of what this object represents.”

In America, we are very fond of our free speech. That is, until it gets to the subject of burning a flag. Flag burning, especially the American flag, is an interesting concept. As long as no one else is hurt in the process, you are well within your right to burn the flag as a form of symbolic speech. This right was solidified in the United States through Texas v. Johnson, a 1989 Supreme Court case in which Gregory Lee Johnson stood trial for burning an American flag during the 1984 Republican National Convention. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his concurrence of the case,

“Though symbols often are what we ourselves make of them, the flag is constant in expressing beliefs Americans share, beliefs in law and peace and that freedom which sustains the human spirit. The case here today forces recognition of the costs to which those beliefs commit us. It is poignant but fundamental that the flag protects those who hold it in contempt.”

Though equally protected, burning the flag of another nation or entity is bound to ruffle some feathers.

Gunnar Thorderson, president of Young Americans for Liberty are planning to hold such a demonstration on UVU’s campus, burning an ISIS flag as a show of disdain toward the extremist group. Thorderson, with the help of Rex Linder, president of the Secular Student Alliance, are in the process of submitting a proposal to UVU’s fire marshal, wanting to go through proper channels to ensure the demonstration is carried out safely and with legal protection. No official date has been set at this point, but Thorderson and Linder foresee the event happening sometime in March.

“That flag represents so much more than just a group of people going out and hurting people,” said Thorderson, “It’s something that is an antithesis to even the majority of Muslims out there. I think there is no better way than to burn what they take pride in. By burning that, you are burning them and burning what they stand for.”

Just as we Americans often take pride in our star-spangled banner, members of ISIS are no doubt fond of their colors, and some are worried that the demonstration could do more harm than good. Administration, which did not comment on the issue, could be wary about holding a flag burning on campus as it may make the school a more attractive target for ISIS terrorist attacks.

Thorderson acknowledges these concerns, saying “Fear is never the answer. We should never be afraid of ISIS and refrain from speaking out against their atrocities and terror because we are afraid of them and being put in their crosshairs. It is a legitimate concern, but we as Americans need to get over that fear.

We have to take action against this radical ideology, we have to show them that together we stand against them. As more people are willing to do that, we send a clearer message to our leaders that this is an issue we want addressed. One more flag burning in a city of Utah is just helping aid Americans come together against this threat.”

I’m often told that Wolverines are complacent and that we don’t have hard opinions on difficult topics like students at other colleges. To them, I hold up an event like this as a counter example. May you live in interesting times, Wolverines.