An Iowa man was sentenced to 15 years in prison for burning an LGBT flag that belonged to a Church (along with 2 other felony convictions). For the topic of the week on January 12, 2020, members of the Spill the T Discord guild discussed this story.
You can view the original article here: https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/us-man-steals-burns-lgbt-pride-flag-gets-16-years-in-prison
The following questions were asked in the Discord guild for the community to discuss:
- Was the 15-year prison sentence appropriate? Why or why not?
- A debate can be made about an LGBT flag being burned results in a hate crime, however burning the American flag is protected under free speech if done so as a political statement and not in violation of arson laws. What is the difference between burning an LGBT flag and burning an American flag, if any? Does this difference necessitate the different viewpoints / penalties between the two?
- What should LGBT allies take away from this incident?
The guild was largely in agreement that this act committed by the man was an act of arson and vandalism. The LGBT flag did not belong to him and instead belonged to a Church. The fact he burned the property of another entity warrants charges against him for arson and vandalism. The man did deserve prison time, though there was no consensus on whether or not the 15 years was justified.
The guild was mostly in agreement with questioning the motion to classify this as a hate crime. Varying opinions were present about this. A couple of members believe it is not ethical to classify burning of the LGBT flag (taking the fact this incident involved burning another entity’s property) as illegal or a hate crime, especially considering burning the U.S. flag to make a political statement is protected free speech by the Supreme Court ruling Texas vs. Johnson.
However, it was brought up that burning the LGBT flag has a different connotation from burning the U.S. flag. Burning the LGBT flag is making a statement against a group of people for who they are and have no choice in the matter. Burning the U.S. flag is more a statement against policy and the government rather than the people, and even so, being a U.S. citizen is a choice. Therefore, classifying burning the LGBT flag as a hate crime has some merit.
Another member stated that they would rather people be allowed to express their beliefs that do not directly incite violence than for certain things to be classified illegal (such as burning the LGBT flag) and others not (such as burning the U.S. flag). In fact, by allowing such freedom of expression, when one calls another a slur, by that freedom, a slur can be used in retaliation. Such decisions on punishment for expression should be left up to society and not the government. If the government had the responsibility, they would then have the obligation to try and define what classifies as the crime without bias.