US President-elect Donald Trump has threatened to jail people who burn the United States flag, prompting strong rebukes online and concerns about how he would deal with dissidents when he assumes power.
Trump suggested that setting fire to the flag should be punished by either a year in prison or the loss of citizenship, in a tweet early on Monday.
“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” the incoming US president said.
The comments provoked widespread condemnation from Trump’s critics, who pointed out that burning the flag was a constitutionally protected right.
The American Civil Liberties Union’s senior staff attorney, Lee Rowland, said flag burning was protected under the US constitution and that stripping citizenship from a US national was also unconstitutional “even for the most heinous crimes”.
“One of the founding principles of our nation is tolerance of peaceful protest and dissent,” Rowland said in a statement sent to Al Jazeera.
“Flag burning, like other forms of dissent, is political speech that is fully protected by the First Amendment.”
“Both the protection of political speech and the inviolability of US citizenship are long-standing constitutional principles at the very core of American democracy.”
In a series of tweets responding to Trump’s proposal, independent US presidential candidate Evan McMullin said on Tuesday that the new president could not “dictate” what Americans were allowed to do.
“Our constitution protects our rights to such expression,” McMullin said, adding “it does not protect presidents who violate them from impeachment.”
McMullin, the Republican Party’s former chief policy director who quit during Trump’s successful primary bid, called on others to speak out.
“All Americans must stand up to [Trump’s] rhetorical and literal violations of our rights and democratic norms. Otherwise, they will be eroded as our expectations change, as we’re desensitised to the notion that our basic rights are not inalienable.”
Others warned of deeper consequences of Trump’s comments, especially given his recent attacks on media outlets and political rivals.
“The story isn’t flag burning, it is Trump wanting to strip citizenship and voting rights from dissidents,” tweeted Ian Millhiser, the justice editor at ThinkProgress.
“The America I voted for allows people to express unpopular views and still be allowed to vote in the next election,” he continued. – Al Jazeera.