Trump calls for punishment for US flag burners, faces backlash

White House spokesman Josh Earnest responded by saying that though he himself found the burning of the flag 'offensive',?'the freedom that we all have to express ourselves in the way that we choose' is protected under the US Constitution. Photograph:( Getty )

Washington, United States Nov 29, 2016, 11.19 PM (IST)

US President-elect Donal trump's calls for jailing anyone who burns the US flag faced a backlash Tuesday from much of political Washington.

Trump tweeted that anyone who burns the US flag must face "consequences" on Tuesday.

He posted on Twitter: "Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!"

White House spokesman Josh Earnest responded by saying that though he himself found the burning of the flag "offensive", "the freedom that we all have to express ourselves in the way that we choose" is protected under the US Constitution.

"The vast majority of Americans, myself included, find the burning of the flag offensive, but we have a responsibility as a country to carefully protect our rights," Earnest said.

President Barack Obama's spokesman also said such rights applied to "being able to say whatever you want on Twitter," a sly reference to Trump's unprecedented use of social media to bash opponents and the press, news agency AFP reported.

Trump's allies in the Congress also politely pushed back.

"That activity is a protected First Amendment right, a form of unpleasant speech, and in this country we have a long tradition of respecting unpleasant speech," senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told reporters when asked about Trump's suggestion, reported AFP. "I happen to support the Supreme Court decision on that matter."

The country's top court had made a ruling allowing the burning of American flag in the name of freedom of expression.

In 2012, conservative justice Antonin Scalia explained the importance of differentiating between personal opinions and respect for the law, reported AFP.

"If I were king, I would not allow people to go about burning the American flag," said Scalia, who died early this year. "However, we have a First Amendment which says that the right of free speech shall not be abridged, and it is addressed in particular to speech critical of the government. I mean, that was the main kind of speech that tyrants would seek to suppress."

"Burning the flag is a form of expression," Scalia said.

Theodore Boutrous, a constitutional law expert, told AFP that Scalia had joined the majority in the appeals case of Texas v. Johnson, which held "unequivocally" that flag burning is protected speech under the First Amendment.

"The Constitution protects all Americans, even those who act like they hold it in contempt," Boutrous said.

(With inputs from AFP)