No, Hillary Clinton did not try and ban flag burning in 2005

Image: YouTube screen capture

Image: YouTube screen capture

On Tuesday, Donald Trump suggested that burning the American flag should be punishable by a $1,000 fine and a year in prison.

Anti-Clinton reactionaries on both sides of the aisle are quickly trying to point out that in 2005, Hillary Clinton sponsored a bill about flag burning. Are they right?

Trump’s statement, of course, caused an uproar from free speech advocates who understand that flag burning is an act of protest and protected by the first amendment. Denying that right is a denial of free speech rights and is anti-dissent.

This makes Trump no better than many of the world’s worst dictators who took nationalism to this extreme.

So what about Clinton’s law?

Her law, Flag Protection Act of 2005, co-written by Republican Bob Bennett is broken into three main parts.

Part 1: Destroying or damaging a U.S. flag with the primary purpose and intent to incite or produce imminent violence or a breach of the peace.

While too vague, it tries to say that if you’re burning the flag, not as an act of protest but an act to incite violence against the US or its people, that would be a federal offense.

This isn’t much different than our banning of language that does the same. Yes, you have free speech, but you can’t tell a crowd to go murder someone.

The biggest problem is that the language doesn’t specify who decides what is inciting violence and how much proof is needed. If a group of socialists burned the flag it’s all too possible that an official could see that as inciting an armed revolution.

Still, this does not compare to simply burning the flag and going to prison.

Part 2: Intentionally threatening or intimidating any person, or group of persons, by burning a U.S. flag

Basically, see above. This isn’t about burning the flag but instead is focused on why.

Part 3: Stealing or knowingly converting the use of a U.S. flag belonging to the United States, or belonging to another person on U.S. lands, and intentionally destroying or damaging that flag.

This is basically useless. Stealing federal property no matter what you do with it is already illegal.

The whole law is for show and sounds patriotic, something that would have gained a lot of support in 2005 from both parties.

Yes, Clinton is wrong for being a part of it but we must be careful when trying to compare this nonsense with a minority-president-election arguing that anyone who burns the flag deserves time in prison.

The fact anyone is comparing these two ideas is ridiculous.

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Dan Arel is an award-winning journalist and the author of the best-selling book The Secular Activist; and Parenting Without God. He is also a freelance columnist for AlterNet, Time, and The Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter: @danarel