The title says it all.

I believe even the national flag can be burned as a means of disposing of old, tattered flags. But is it legal to burn Washington State's flag for political reasons - to protest unfair taxes or corporate corruption, for example?


If you do, you may be in violation of RCW 9.86.030:

(1) No person shall knowingly cast contempt upon any flag, standard, color, ensign or shield, as defined in RCW 9.86.010, by publicly mutilating, defacing, defiling, burning, or trampling upon the flag, standard, color, ensign or shield.

(2) A violation of this section is a gross misdemeanor.

The law specifically protects the US and Washington State Flags, but not the Oregon Flag. This law was passed in 2003 as part of a general reorganization of criminal law. Although there was a case in 1970, State v. Turner which impinged on that statute, the Washington Supreme Court has not held the statute unconstitutional, to the best of my knowledge, and SCOTUS has not addressed the case either. I don't know, perhaps some prosecutor would be willing to put this to the test. The court in Turner seems to have signalled a willingness to uphold the law in case the flag burning was part of an incitement to violence.

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    A more relevant case is Texas v. Johnson, where the Supreme Court held that states couldn't ban desecrating the US flag. – Ross Ridge May 23 at 5:51
  • Interesting, I thought burning the U.S. flag meant an automatic prison sentence. – David Blomstrom May 23 at 6:58
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    @DavidBlomstrom: For federal law, you might be thinking of 18 USC 700 which provides for either a fine or a prison sentence for burning or otherwise desecrating the US flag. It was ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in US v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310 (1990), shortly after Texas v. Johnson. Congress never repealed it, so it remains on the books, but is unenforceable. – Nate Eldredge May 23 at 12:08

Wipe your a#@ with it if you want

Freedom of expression is baked into the US constitution. With very few exceptions the government can’t stop you expressing yourself any way you want.

Of course, your fellow Americans can hound you, punish you, destroy your career and make your life a living hell using their own freedom of expression. Freedom from government sanction does not mean freedom from consequences.

At least you’re not planning to do something really divisive like kneeling at a football game.

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    Interestingly, though, it's only since about 1989 that the Supreme Court has shared your view that the right to burn the flag is "baked in" (see Texas v. Johnson and US v Eichman cited in the comments on the other answer); and even then, four of nine justices dissented and thought the First Amendment did not protect it. – Nate Eldredge May 23 at 12:13
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    @NateEldredge the law that was found unconstitutional in US v. Eichman was only passed in 1989. It's not like the supreme court had a sudden change of heart about a law that had been on the books for decades. – phoog May 24 at 4:33
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    @phoog: Actually, it was originally enacted in 1968: Public Law 90-381. I believe the 1989 amendments (Public Law 101-131) were passed after Texas v. Johnson in an attempt to save the federal statute from a similar fate (the main effect was to strike out the prohibition of "casting contempt upon" the flag and only forbid specific conduct: mutilating, defacing, etc). As we know, it didn't work. – Nate Eldredge May 24 at 4:50
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    @phoog: There was also an earlier law from 1947 which likewise made it illegal to mutilate the flag, but it only applied within the District of Columbia, didn't specifically mention burning, and carried a lesser punishment of 30 days imprisonment or a $100 fine (61 Stat 642). The 1968 act made it apply nationwide, included burning, and raised the punishment to $1000 or one year. – Nate Eldredge May 24 at 5:03
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    @NateEldredge were there many convictions under those laws? Did any of them make it to the supreme court? – phoog May 24 at 5:06

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