What is the Proper Way to Display a Flag?
“Found Art” is a term often used to describe a trend of incorporating everyday objects into works of art. Courts have upheld laws that prohibit artists from incorporating objects with inherently dangerous properties into their works. The First Amendment will not, however, tolerate laws that prohibit incorporating non-dangerous but venerated objects into works of art simply because the work casts the object in a negative light.
In February 1989, Dread Scott, then known as Scott Tyler and a student at the Chicago Institute of Art, displayed his work What is the Proper Way to Display a Flag? as part of a student exhibition at the Institute. The work included an American flag laid out on the floor. Mounted on the wall directly above the flag were a photograph of various images of American flags and a shelf holding a book in which visitors were invited to record their thoughts about the display. In order to do so, however, they had to step on the flag.
The work immediately provoked daily protests outside the Institute. The work immediately provoked daily protests outside the Institute and Chicago’s City Council soon passed a local ordinance banning flag desecration. The City filed a lawsuit in Circuit County Court, asking that the ordinance be declared constitutional.
Is this art protected? YES
In November, Judge Kenneth L. Gillis ruled that the ordinance could not be used to prosecute artists who incorporate American flags in their works because “when the flag is displayed in a way to convey ideas, such display is protected by the First Amendment.”