Flag Burning: How It’s Punished Around The World
Many countries have rules and regulations that punish flag burning. Flag burning is an offence that falls under the broader category of ‘flag desecration’. Flag desecration is basically all forms of destroying a flag or treating it with disrespect, such as tearing it up, spray painting slogans on it, or even turning it into a shirt. These laws and their level of control vary wildly from country to country.
The United States, for example, has laws against defacement, but flag burning has been upheld as legal several times by their Supreme Court! France has stricter flag desecration laws – these punish public desecration and distributing images showing a flag being privately desecrated. In Japan, the law protects flag burning – Article 21 of their constitution considers it freedom of speech. However, it’s illegal to burn the flags of other countries there!
In New Zealand, the Flags, Emblems and Names Protection Act of 1981 makes it a crime to destroy the New Zealand flag – but only if you did it with the intent of dishonouring the flag. Australia, like Belgium and Sweden, is much laxer and doesn’t have a law that specifically bans flag burning. But because of how a flag is burned, it can still be punished under Australian law.
Generally, even if a country doesn’t have a specific law against flag burning, it can arrest and charge offenders if the burning poses a danger to citizens or destruction of property.
What Offense Does Flag Burning Constitute In Australia?
There are no specific Australian flag laws that punish the burning of the flag. Several public officers have tried to change this and introduce an act to make it a crime. The Flags Acts of 1953, which defines the protocol around the Australian flag, was debated upon even before it became a law, as the Labor Party’s Arthur Calwell pointed out that American law punishes defacing their flag.
Since then, there have been several calls for flag protection laws, seeking to fine or imprison people. In 2003, Colin Barnett pushed for a Flag Protection bill that would fine offenders $AUD6000 for flag desecration ‘intended to cause offence to any person or persons'. The most recent bill was introduced in 2016 by the National Party’s George Christensen, but this bill didn’t pass and become a law.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get in trouble when you burn a flag in Australia. Flag burning still has to comply with other Australian laws. For flag burning to be legal, it should be done safely and not cause fear or harm to others. If it does, it can qualify as disorderly conduct, which is punishable by imprisonment.
Famous Cases Of Flag Burning In Australia
The case of Coleman v. Kinbacher and Anor is one of the most well-known cases in recent history, where Patrick Coleman poured petrol on a flag and set it on fire on Australia Day. He was punished because he had burned a particularly large Australian flag in a public park, which was cited as causing ‘concern, fright, and anger’ to onlookers. That made him liable for disorderly conduct.
In 2005, an unnamed youth climbed a Returned and Services League flagpole and tore down the Australian flag, then set it on fire. He was sentenced to 12 months’ probation for destruction of property, but not for flag desecration.
Flag burning is often done as an act of political protest by some groups in Australia, particularly to speak out against what indigenous rights activists call ‘Invasion Day’ or ‘Survival Day’, instead of ‘Australia Day’. In 2012, activists burned the flag outside the entrance of Parliament House in Canberra, protesting the occupation of Aboriginal land.
It May Be Legal, But That Doesn’t Make It Acceptable
Flag burning is a very powerful tool of protest. However, you should think before doing it to get a message across. If you don’t do it safely, you can find yourself facing some jail time and a lot of negative attention for your cause. If you’re not sure that you can burn a flag without causing panic, there are other ways to demonstrate what you believe in, like making posters or marching signs!