The First Amendment and the classroom: Letters from Eisenhower High School students

The First Amendment and the classroom: Letters from Eisenhower High School students

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Trump Flag Burning

In this July 20, 2016 file photo, a law enforcement officer takes Gregory "Joey" Johnson into custody after he started to burn an American flag in Cleveland, during the third day of the Republican convention. 


I wanted my students to experience the concepts of the First Amendment and had them study the primary court case Texas v. Johnson on the issue of flag burning. Each of the students read and synthesized multiple positions and debated the topic. They have come to their individual conclusions about the issue and have submitted them. 

Ron Lybarger, Eisenhower instructor, honors English

Symbolic of country, freedom

In my Honors English 2 class at Eisenhower High School, we discussed the topic of flag burning. The American flag isn’t just a flammable piece of fabric with stripes and stars sewn on. It’s symbolic of our country and our earned freedom, which is why it shouldn’t be destroyed because of troubled feelings.

The First Amendment gives all of us the right of freedom of speech, and the ability to petition the government if we don’t agree with their actions. This amendment allows you to legally burn an American flag. While the burning of a flag may be constitutionally accepted, I don’t agree with it.

In 1984, a U.S. citizen named Gregory Lee Johnson burned a flag to express his anger towards the current policies. His case was controversial because some people, including myself, think that our flag should be treated with proper respect. However, there’s no official law against burning a flag.

Some people don’t see anything wrong with this act. They see it as not harming anyone, but what about our veterans, active military, or the rest of our citizens? Every day, people are fighting for our country, and for someone to burn the symbol of what they are fighting for is hurtful. The opposers also say that since there are millions of American flags, why does the burning of only one matter? It matters because it’s still a flag that we take pride in and honor as a country. If something is destroyed that has value, people will be hurt.

In my opinion, we should address this issue by prohibiting flag desecration. The pledge that we say every morning at school or the anthem we sing occasionally isn't just to an object, it’s to our freedom, perseverance, strength, and courage.

Isabella Tate, Decatur

No physical harm being done

Donald Trump says, “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag — if they do, there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” So he fully agrees with it and believes there should be a strong ban on burning flags. I do not agree with him at all; I do not think that you should be just going around burning flags and that it’s right to do. I do not feel that you should be sentenced for that though because it’s just a flag it’s not physically harming anyone at all. He feels that you should be sentenced to jail for that. I don’t think that you should. There are way worse things that people do than burning a flag and do not get sentenced for it. Some people may say that you are hurting people by burning a flag mentally because many people actually care but people don’t care.

There are so many flags anyways and there is not one main flag that was invented that was never destroyed or something. I do not agree with Trump especially about getting a jail sentence but I do not think that this action is not a right thing to do at the same time.

There shouldn’t have to be a punishment just for burning a flag. Many people honor the flag but some people do not so they showed how they feel by burning a flag, they shouldn’t do that but they do have the freedom of right to do so right?

Miracle Anderson, Decatur

Freedom of speech can be offensive

Our very own President of the United States believes that flag burnings should be banned and I think his viewpoints contradict the First Amendment.

President Trump stated in a tweet, “All in for Senator Steve Daines as he proposes an Amendment for a strong BAN on burning our American Flag. A no brainer!” He also tweeted after his 2016 election, “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag-if they do, there must be consequences-perhaps loss of citizenship or a year in jail.” Trump presents his opinions very clearly, but isn’t backed up by the First Amendment. The First Amendment protects the freedom of speech. Donald Trump saying that there should be consequences for flag burning is not fair to the amendment, because it is 100% protected under it.

Flag burning is a very strong opinionative action, and can be offensive to many, but what part of freedom of speech isn’t? The flag burning process is a harmless action to display freedom of speech and is very legal according to the First Amendment. There is no wrongdoing of flag burning in America when you want to make a bold, solid point.

Aubree Brown, Decatur

Not everyone feels it's right

Donald Trump is against flag burning and has a very firm opinion about it. Whereas the First Amendment has rules beyond the rights of people who burn flags.

Donald Trump’s view is very common. There have been people all over the nation that feel the exact same way as him. “You should be sentenced to one year in jail or lose citizenship,” quotes from the President, in the source He has also said, “Do not burn the flag.” The President has a firm viewpoint on how he feels about flag burning.

The First Amendment is basis of the freedom of speech when it comes to flag burning. The First Amendment has saved multiple people that have burned the flag from prison time. You can’t go against the First Amendment. Flag burning cases have made it all the way to the Supreme Court. However, the First Amendment proves flag burners innocent.

People have reasons to why they burn flags, but not everyone feels like it’s the right thing to do.

Lania Brown, Decatur

Take a stand against burning

I read into how often flag burning occurs and how far back it dates. The burning of our flag may be allowed in the rights covered by the First Amendment but it emotionally hurts many people and I think we need to take a stand against it.

The first defacing of the US flag dates to 1862. Resident William B. Mumford was hanged for tearing down a US flag, dragging it through the mud, and tearing it to shreds. In 1918, Ernest V. Starr was convicted to 10-20 years at hard labor for failing to kiss the flag.

But in 2016, a man set the flag on fire outside of the Republican National Convention and is now being paid $225,000 by the city of Cleveland to settle his claims that police officers had retaliated against him for an exercise of free expression.

We all need to do what is right and take a stand against those who burn the flag. The flag represents the 13 original colonies by the 13 stripes that turned into 50 states represented by the 50 stars. The flag creates a sense of unity in our country, and people burning the flag are not only showing disrespect to the country but also to the hundreds upon hundreds of people who fought for us in wars to be able to have this freedom.

-Sarah Willian, Decatur

Flag brings country together

The burning of the flag is allowed in the rights of the First Amendment, but it is wrong. The flag symbolizes our freedom.

Some say burning of the flag doesn’t hurt anyone but it is disrespectful for the veterans who have put their lives on the line for our country. There are many, many flags so some people think burning one won’t hurt anything but it’s a disgrace to our country.

In 2016 a man set a flag on fire in front of the Republican National Convention. The government didn’t necessarily agree with him being set free, but they had to follow the constitution. Burning the flag is burning all the meaning behind it. The flag brings the whole country together.

Shyann Thurston, Decatur

Flag burning isn't terrorism

I strongly believe that flag burning should be allowed.

Some may say that this is an act of terrorism. In my opinion flag burning shouldn’t fall under that category. No one is getting hurt during this practice. This non-violent act may hurt someone’s feelings, but that is about it. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Therefore we should respect others beliefs. Just because someone else thinks one way doesn’t mean you have to follow them. The United States is the home of the free for a reason. We all have the right to say, believe, and do what we want. That is what makes us unique. If someone was constantly telling us what to do, then we wouldn’t be considered free.

There is an abundance of American flags in the United States. Therefore one flag doesn’t hold any more importance over another. These are all just replicas of our freedom. Almost all American flags are imported from China. The flags aren’t handmade or take a lot of time to make. Flag burning isn’t bad because it’s not like all the flags are getting burned.

A lot of people think that having an American flag is a huge privilege. Therefore, they take great pride in it. Flag owners will go through certain measures just to keep the flag honorable. For example, some believe that the flag cannot touch the ground. If the flag touches the ground it needs to be discarded. The respectful way to discard the flag is by burning it. This states that flag burning should be allowed.

Alyssa Kennedy, Decatur

An easy way to get attention

After going through and looking at some unique viewpoints, I’ve decided that I support flag burning and them expressing their right of freedom of expression.

To start off with, flags are burned to protest, getting rid of that would be infringing on our rights. Flags are mass-produced, so burning one to get the attention of the government isn’t harmful. With all the attention the media brings to the scene of flag burning, it has made it an easy way to spread their opinion.

Is it actually disrespectful to burn our flag? This national flag is printed on many items from bumper stickers to clothing. Wouldn’t the fact of the bumper sticker wearing down and getting dirty be more disrespectful. Or, wearing some pants with our flag on them and splitting them?

All these could be considered disrespectful, yet the news only seems to care about one. Sure you could argue that you didn’t mean to dirty the sticker or split your pants, but everyone knows that their car gets dirty, so they would just be setting themselves up for that. With that logic, why wouldn’t we also eliminate the sale of anything referring to our flag, that isn’t an actual flag?

Whether you support it or are against it, we can all agree that the government isn’t perfect, and sometimes a little protest is needed to open their eyes and ours to that fact.

Oakley Tate, Decatur

It's important to have our say

We live in a time in society where people are attempting to silence the opinions of others that oppose them. We live in a time where people support the First Amendment when it supports them, yet when it supports their opposition, they say that it shouldn’t apply. People are purposefully telling people that their opinions are wrong if they have disagreements, so it’s time we start realizing that we need to protect the First Amendment.

All humans are born with a mind that can make decisions for itself, including the opposition of the people around us. The First Amendment allows for people to speak their minds, and if we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t be where we are now. Any peaceful protests, unions, news articles, radio broadcasts, controversial twitter profiles of American presidents, and more, wouldn’t be allowed to say anything that offends or opposes the ideas of others.

My point is, it’s important to have our say in the United States. If we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t be who we are. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone should have the right to share it, no matter how controversial it may be. We are all free-thinking, so it’s time we realize that everyone should have the ability to share what they think

Zane Romano, Decatur

Why does burning really matter?

I believe burning the flag should be covered under freedom of speech and protected by the First Amendment. Everyone has a different opinion and makes very good points why it should or shouldn’t be legal.

Burning the flag never hurt anyone and is a way of expressing one's opinion. There will never be an action that doesn’t make someone else offended by it. Everyone has different thoughts and burning the flag is a way of showing that you disagree with their thoughts. Everyone has their own view on this topic and has the right to let that be known.

As long as no one is getting hurt, then what’s wrong with burning the flag? Cheap flags are put on everything and sometimes aren’t given the proper care they are supposed to have, and yet no one cares. For example, they are on beach towels and underwear. Yet the second something happens to what people consider a “real flag,” they suddenly care.

The flags are made from different materials and there isn’t just one that resembles America. Technically there isn’t just one flag for America, they’re all mass-produced. So why does it really matter when someone burns the flag?

Samuel Benner, Decatur

Burning makes us look weak

It makes me feel as if people are so willing to disrespect our country’s flag by burning it for the attention of others and getting away with it, we’re being looked at differently by other nations and it makes us look weak. The flag has been used to display our nationalism, as well as our rebellion, and everything else in between.

The flag is so important that its history tells the story of America itself. It represents the freedom, dignity, and the true meaning of being an American, and for it to be burned and filmed publicly is out of a lack of respect. Others might say it was freedom of expression, but it can be looked at as a threat to our country.

It is disrespectful to the people of our nation, our military and our government to burn the flag. So many Americans have served as soldiers and some have died for their country and its symbols. It just seems like our government should have a very strong interest in protecting its national symbol of freedom. Two things or symbols that people equate with freedom in our country is the American flag and the bald eagle.

It’s not that I can make others and everybody feel as strongly and passionately about the situation as I am but, the act of flag burning will never be an act I’ll respect or contribute to from the attention for another.

Christine Koontz, Decatur

Burning shows we're not strong 

I feel that flag burning makes our country looked down on. To me it symbolizes that we aren’t strong enough. The burning of a flag can cause different people to react different ways in different situations. Filming it and publicizing it open to all countries could cause people to act out.

The First Amendment allows freedom of speech or the right of the people to peaceably assemble. Instead of burning a flag of a country, use your freedom of speech. By just saying your thoughts on a country isn’t that big of a deal in my opinion, words are words and they shouldn’t hurt one another if it’s about the whole country itself. Now, by burning a flag can make that country feel like they are weak or disappointing.

My response to the President's position on flag burning is that flag burning should be banned in all countries, of any type of flag. I feel people just do it for the attention they could get out of it.

Also, about the First Amendment, I feel the government should be more strict about the freedom of speech rule. They should cut it down to only having freedom of speech about certain things about other countries. They shouldn’t talk down on another country because it’s a different religion or because they look or talk different. Everyone should be equal about the way each country talks about each other.

Ashleigh Moran, Eisenhower High School

Don't allow verbal terrorism

Even though I myself would not burn a flag, if someone did, I wouldn’t throw them in jail for it. For what should and shouldn’t be covered, that’s a little harder. I think that even though it’s hate speech it should be covered because as long as it’s not hurting anyone physically or causing violence then they should be allowed to.

Something that shouldn’t really be covered is verbal terrorism. If someone gets on the web and starts a video encouraging people to bomb a place it is verbal terrorism. If it is threatening the country they should at least be brought in for questioning because it could be causing violence.Even though verbal terrorism is a type of expression it is putting people in danger. And even though hate speech might hurt someone mentally the law doesn’t take that into consideration. Is that right? Not really but we haven’t gotten that far yet.

Sciler Treacy, Decatur

Amendment isn't the answer

Senator Steve Daines decided he was going to propose an amendment to ban flag burning. There are a lot of people who agree, but some who don’t agree. The main one is President Trump, who says that he is “All in” for Sen. Daines.

I agree with Sen. Daines and President Trump that the American flag should never be burned, but I do not think passing the amendment would be good because that’s going to hurt the First Amendment. The First Amendment is freedom of speech, so therefore if you take flag burning off the table then when something else gets worse you’re going to have to take other things off the table also.

People use freedom of speech to get the attention of the nation, if you take that away, how are people going to get the attention of the nation they want. This amendment should not be passed because then you're going to have to make an amendment about other things in the future.

Brylan Phillips, Decatur

Flag burning potentially treason

Flag burning technically is a form of freedom of speech, but it is incredibly disrespectful. Defacing a flag could be seen as an act of minor treason when it comes to other countries, making me question why have it allowed within the First Amendment. Yes, it’s an act of freedom and your viewpoints, but that’s the symbol of America itself. Burning it leads it to sounding as if we’re all slowly within generations defacing are own country. Should that really be allowed within a country that’s already been through so much recently, having our own president doing some questionable things and a few other individuals doing similar things as well?

Our president seems to be against flag burning like most of us are. He hugged a flag and even spoke out about it. And what’s worse is that people claim to have fought in a war and continue to burn a flag after fighting for a country. Personally, this is a bit far for freedom of speech. Burning a main symbol for America is minor treason.

Yes there’s multiple reasons to why you’d burn a flag, but what’s the point of being an American citizen and burning a flag in a land meant for the free? Aren’t other countries still working out things when it comes to government while we’re nearly a full on finished country? The fact they haven’t had anything done to them alone shows they're probably doing this to simply enrage people.

Davien Jackson, Decatur

No hate based on race

People in the United States today are often rude and disrespectful to those of other nationalities by saying racist or hurtful things to them. I think people for the most part should be allowed to say what they want to an extent.

But when it comes to saying racist things I think that’s not ok, it causes more harm than good. If we were able to make hate speech like that illegal. I think people have the right to speak out publicly on social and political matters and standing up for what’s right. Because that’s the right of the people to hold the government accountable. But when it comes to the people they shouldn’t be hating each other based on race.

Jahari Franklin, Decatur

Burning shouldn’t have consequences

Flag burning has been a topic of controversy for decades, and in my opinion, it shouldn’t be. Flag burning is a symbol in a way. It’s how people in this country who feel like America isn’t what it should be, express themselves and their frustration.

When Johnson burned an American flag all those years ago, he did it to protest Ronald Reagan’s policies. I feel like that is completely reasonable and he shouldn’t have been punished.

There have been people saying that by burning the American flag and sharing it on social media, we could anger others, show disrespect, or give veterans PTSD. In my opinion, anything we say or do could offend and/or anger others. If everyone worried about offending people, we wouldn’t change anything.

Like when it was announced that Ariel for the live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid” was going to be black, so many people got angry. Personally, I feel like making Ariel black is being progressive since there was barely any Disney princesses who were white.

If people can get away with hate speech, like members of the KKK, then I feel like we shouldn’t be worried about flag burning. As long as they don’t hurt anyone, it should be OK and not end with consequences.

Flag burning shouldn’t be something that people think is wrong or should result in major (or any) consequence.

Scarlett Taylor, Decatur

Limiting things make them not free

The past week in class we have been talking on a subject that really bothered me when people disagreed with me on my opinion on freedom of speech. In class we were debating on should we limit the things we are allowed to say or should we let everything be free to say and if we limit the things we can say will that go against the First Amendment. We are at Eisenhower High School in Decatur, Illinois.

So I was trying to explain that limiting the things that are free makes it not free. What bothers me the most is that they didn’t know what it meant that we are free to our opinion and speech. I will define freedom of speech - the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint. which is ultimately stating that freedom of speech is without limits on what we can say.

During this debate they brought up that with no limitations that there is hate. With that statement in the debate, I countered it with the “I have a dream” speech and Martin Luther King, that there were limitations on what he could say there was hate for him but he said it anyway. With his attempt of freedom of speech we as a nation became even more free.

In bringing up that topic, I was trying to show that in almost every hate act towards this country, love eventually came out of it where there was no love.

Koltin Mattingly, Decatur

We have right to offend

I’ve lived in America long enough to know what most people take offense of. Freedom of speech is one of the most bittersweet opportunities we have been given as citizens. The question I most commonly find myself asking is “How far is too far in terms of what I can say?”

A threat to someone can offend anyone, but is it still covered under free speech? Should it be? These are the questions I have as a citizen of the United States. We have the right to offend.

Saying you are going to harm someone can be even more intimidating and scary then them putting it into action. But freedom of speech includes any threat.

My personal opinion is that freedom of speech should be continued, but it shouldn’t cover everything in a public environment. Calling someone a racial slur, a homophobic or transphobic name, or anything that offends someone in public or in the workplace should be noticed and there should be consequences if it’s continuous. If people are nice altogether and recognize each other’s differences in a nice and respectful way, freedom of speech is getting its correct use.

Linzie Marlow, Decatur

Speech should be unlimited

Flag burning, do I agree with it? Of course not, but that doesn't mean that man doesn’t have a right to express how he feels. He hasn't hurt anyone so why should he be punished for speaking up?

They always tell us in schools to speak up for yourself but, then later in life when we actually do it, it gets us in trouble. Why call it freedom of speech if you’re not free to say what you want? Our speech shouldn’t be limited, because how are things supposed to get resolved if others can’t speak out.

A lot of the time people get offended by everything a person says, but the way society is nowadays people get offended by you saying your favorite color is purple. It seems like the people who feel the need to express themselves get torn down because someone “higher” than them don’t like what they are saying so they shut them down. Even if it's as simple as a silent protest.

Freedom of speech shouldn’t be limited and that’s what I’m sticking with.

Nakya Smith, Decatur

'But' shouldn't be in discussion

I believe every word and every action regarding freedom of speech should be covered under the First Amendment, though it should exclude violence and other things of nature that could potentially harm anyone physically.

People are all for freedom of speech, right? Usually, that comes with a “but.” They say, “I’m for freedom of speech, but…” and go on and on about how saying certain things that offend people can be harmful. They’re for it, as long as it isn’t against them. People in this world don’t want to be offended.

Of course, hate speech should not be tolerated, but it’s still allowed. Freedom of speech can be hate speech. It’s still a part of it. No matter how bad the word may be, freedom of speech is still to play.

“Why would we allow this?” you may be asking. The thing is, we usually don’t. Even if it’s covered under the First Amendment, people abide by their own personal standards and agree that freedom of speech shouldn’t include hate speech. I disagree, because with rules regarding “freedom” of speech, you must be able to have that freedom to speak.

If you’re not for freedom of speech, you can say it. Realize the definition of freedom. Don’t say you’re in for it and add a “but,” because that’s not freedom. Our country is free, our speech is free, and some may not agree with it.

Kourtney Knotts, Decatur

Find another way to make stand

I don’t think burning the America flag is OK. But people who burn the flag always have a reason behind it , for example, people who don't have their rights and are not getting treated fairly. I am on both sides of the cases of burning the flag and not burning the flag.

Texas v Johnson was a case of Jonson burning the American flag but, Johnson had a reason behind it symbolic speech, political in nature, and could be expressed even at the expense of our national symbol. I would say it’s still not legal to burn the flag but others have their opinion in doing what they believe in making a stand.

So yes, I disagree with anyone in the country who burns the American flag but if you do it for a cause then that’s your rights. If you are capable to burn down the flag you are capable of taking the actions, but you always can find another way to make a stand to this country on how you are feeling.

Kayli Richardson, Decatur

Citizenship shouldn't be revoked

In June, President Trump tweeted that banning flag burning should be a “no brainer,” but this may violate Americans’ First Amendment right. In 1989, flag burning was ruled a Constitutional right of free speech in the Texas v. Johnson case. This has always been a controversial ruling, even 30 years later. Americans are strongly divided on this issue; roughly two-thirds of Republicans believe that flag burners should have their citizenship revoked.

In my opinion, flag burning should be legal and covered by free speech. It’s a nonviolent, personal form of protest. If you ban flag burning, you’re taking away free speech, and it will continue to be taken away. Free speech should cover everything, or else it’s not free speech at all.

As hurtful and problematic as some speech can be, it should still be covered. To prevent this type of speech, we should educate people on the religions, races, cultures, and identities that they fear and hate. Banning flag burning doesn’t change the opinions of people on either side; people will still protest in other ways. No one should have their citizenship revoked for demonstrating their right to free speech.

Reese York, Decatur

People can peacefully express selves

I think people should be able to express themselves. The First Amendment calls for freedom of speech. Therefore as long as someone is not hurting anyone or disrupting the peace they should be able to express how they feel. Freedom of speech allows people to express their thoughts and feelings.

President Donald Trump thinks it’s a “no brainer” that flag burning should be banned. He supports the amendment of banning burning of the American flag.

People should be able to peacefully express how they feel and their disagreements.

Grace Deetz, Decatur

History has been changed for better

I disagree with President Trump's stance on flag desecration, as it would be cutting off an aspect of free speech. This cut off of freedom of speech has threatened America before. This is the very same issue that happened with Title II Net Neutrality. This happened back in the Texas V. Johnson case. We cannot keep cutting off the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Without freedom of speech, nothing would ever be the same. Flag burning changed the history of America for the better, honestly.

Freedom of speech has always been an issue in America, ever since its colonization. The civil rights movement is one big example. Now some may say that it’s odd to compare civil rights to flag burning, but I believe the two have something big in common. It’s an example of one’s freedom of speech, whether or not it’s actually free.

I don’t believe Trump should go along with the banning of flag burning, as it’s yet another aspect of free speech he’s planned on taking away, the other being net neutrality. Trump is notorious for these actions, and I believe that he should be held accountable for them.

Dayne Reynolds, Decatur

Let people be heard

The concept of flag burning has been widely debatable across the U.S for decades. For some people it’s viewed as disrespectful and violent but to others, they view it as exercising their First Amendment rights.

Flag burning in the U.S has been one of the most difficult situations to handle and will most likely continue with the way the country is headed. According to, there have been several cases of flag protests or burnings, in 1862, 1918, 1966, 1972, 1974, 1984 and 1990. Those events are not a coincidence but an act of protest during war times.

My opinion on the matter is any American individual should have the right to burn the flag if they feel the need to speak their opinion. The reason for my opinion is because flag burning does not physically inflict harm on another human being or cause any more damage then the burning of nylon. With the way politics have been going the past few decades I feel like everybody can have a reason to be upset enough to destroy the symbol of the country they live in. But at the same time it’s understandable if a U.S. army veteran were to see the burning of a flag and be upset and it would be unacceptable to them. I stand for what I believe is acceptable and that is the burning of a flag by all means necessary if it’s what has to be done for the voice of the people to be recognized and heard.

Fernando Leal, Decatur

Just being a normal citizen

I support the flag burning protest to get the government's attention. I believe that burning the flag shouldn’t result in such an argument with many people.

After reading many articles, protesters only do such things to get the government's attention in the rightful act. In my rightful actions of agreeing with burning the flag, I believe that there should be no consequences towards that action of thought. I also think that such actions are not an act of being a terrorist but just being a normal citizen of America trying to get the attention of others.

Burning the flag should end in such an argument, especially when the flag is on things such as clothing, cars, and paintings. If you're burning clothes that have the flag on it, should action be taken upon it just like the flag? Is it not the same concept?

I believe that shouldn’t end in high publicity because there are many things that come to a conclusion on this action. Such disrespect on the flag will have people angry and sad while some others will just not care.

Bradley Tuttle, Decatur


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