The only offenses in Pennsylvania that are currently listed as “Offenses Against the Existence or Stability of Government” involve flag offenses:
– Display of the flag at public meetings
Flags must be displayed in good shape and can’t be dirty or worn. There’s a statutory exception for special flags.
– Desecration of the flag
Pennsylvania law prohibits any advertising, marks, or writing on the US or state flags. The law also makes it illegal for anyone to mutilate, deface, defile, trample upon, or cast contempt on either flag.
The statute provides an exception for political or patriotic demonstrations.
– Insults to national or Commonwealth flag
If you take down, defile, injure, take down, insult, or otherwise damage a US or Commonwealth flag, you can be charged with a crime.
Aren’t these statutes unconstitutional under the First Amendment?
It’s common knowledge that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the freedom of speech and expression. Since the United States Supreme Court has already concluded that flag burning is protected speech, one would assume that laws that appear to protect flags in Pennsylvania are unconstitutional. This isn’t quite right.
In 1995, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that the laws that prohibit desecration of flags are only unconstitutional when they try to restrict speech and expression. So, if a person can’t show that they are engaging in speech or another type of expressive activity, they can still be prosecuted under Pennsylvania’s flag protection laws.