When Moses came down with the tablets and saw the Jews had made a golden calf he broke the tablets and said, "This is the law which you have broken." Flag burning is frequently a symbolic expression of a similar sentiment. Unfortunately, the gesture requires the viewer to think in the abstract, so we're screwed. He's not going to get the same message that the protester is sending. Even though flag burning is misguided, it's still a symbolic attack, no more real than sticking pins in a voodoo doll or tearing up a picture of somebody. An attack on an inanimate national symbol might be a property crime, but it shouldn't be punished as if it were an attack on the nation itself. On top of that, sure as shooting some protesters are going to start burning things that are almost flags and our courts will be clogged with questions of whether or not it's legal to burn a picture of a flag or to destroy a newspaper that has a flag printed in an advertisement or to burn a handkerchief
that has a red-white-and-blue motif similar to that of the flag, and just how similar? Is it punishable to burn a 48-star flag? How about a flag with 51 stars and 15 stripes? What if the flag is purple, pink and gray instead of the usual colors? I know it sounds stupid, but if flag burning is outlawed millions of dollars in legal fees and tens of thousands of the court's hours will be spent deciding these useless questions. If it'll make people feel better, we could proscribe some symbolic punishment for the symbolic crime like putting a photograph of the perpetrator in prison.