A country’s national anthem and flag are inherent to its identity; rousing renditions of La Marseillaise showed the French people’s solidarity after recent terror attacks and monuments around the world were lit up with the Union Jack after a June terrorist attack in Manchester.
China last week announced that it was considering three-year jail terms for anyone who disrespected its national anthem or flag in public.
US President Donald Trump recently travelled to the country and has been vocal in criticising NFL players who kneel during the national anthem in protest at what they perceive as racial injustice.
He has also tweeted that flag burning must have “consequences”.
Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2016
The US’ Flag Code outlines etiquette that should be observed while the Stars and Stripes is playing – everyone should stand and face the flag, civilians should place their right hand over their heart and military personnel/veterans should salute throughout – but it is never enforced and no punishment will be assigned for breaching it.
This is a hotly debated issue in the US and there have been many attempts to pass flag-desecration amendments.
The most recent in June 2006 fell one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed to send the amendment to be voted on by the states.
What about EU countries?
The United Kingdom
The UK has many myths about laws relating to the Crown with varying degrees of truth, however, neither the law of England and Wales nor the law of Scotland contains punishment for desecrating a national flag.
Article 188 of Greece’s “penal code” states that if someone insults the national anthem, destroys the flag or other national Greek symbols they could go to prison for two years or pay a fine.
The code also addresses the desecration of foreign flags (Article 155). If someone “removes, destroys, deforms or pollutes the official flag or emblem of the sovereignty of a foreign state” or “or interrupts the national anthem” while in Greece, they could serve six months in prison or pay a fine at the request of the foreign government.
German law takes a hard line with anyone who “reviles or damages” the German federal flag, with offenders receiving up to five years in prison.
It is customary for Germans to start with the third verse of their national anthem when it is sung in public due to the two first verses being linked to Nazism.
The display of Nazi symbols for anything other than educational purposes is forbidden in Germany, with similar laws existing in Austria.
As of July 2010, it is a crime to desecrate the French national flag in public and even distribute images of the action being undertaken in a private setting.
A clause added to French law after whistles were blown during La Marseillaise at a large football match makes anyone who “outrages” the French national anthem or the French flag during an event regulated by public authorities liable for a €7,500 fine.
In Spain, any publically made written or spoken insult to its Autonomous Communities, its symbols or emblems is punishable by a fine or seven to twelve months prison.
According to the Spanish Criminal Code, it is also a crime to threaten the royal family, or any of their direct relatives, that could see an individual imprisoned for three to six years.
Similarly, seriously insulting the royal family, the Queen’s consort, the Regent, a member of the Regency or the Prince or Princess of Asturias is punishable with a prison sentence of six months to two years. Less serious insults can result in a fine or six to twelve months prison.
Whether it is considered legal or not in the country in question, flag desecration and protests during national anthems continue to be strong forms of demonstration.
We will continue to see the likes of NFL players bending the knee and Catalonian separatists or supporters of the Spanish state expressing their allegiances through their treatment of the respective flags, and there will undoubtedly be similar movements to follow.