TIME Law

Here Are the Only Times the U.S. Government Can Revoke Your Citizenship

Anti-Trump protesters try to burn US flag during a rally outside the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio on July 20, 2016.
Nova Safo—AFP/Getty Images Anti-Trump protesters try to burn US flag during a rally outside the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio on July 20, 2016.

Burning a flag isn't one of them

President-elect Donald Trump suggested Tuesday morning in a tweet that anyone who burns an American flag should suffer “consequences” such as having their citizenship taken away or spending a year in jail.

Although flag burning is an act protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, Trump’s call to strip citizenship from a person shows that the President-elect could be willing to take away a citizen’s rights. While certain circumstances can lead someone to lose citizenship, burning a U.S. flag does not qualify as a sole reason.

Revoking U.S. citizenship is possible under federal law if a person commits “any act of treason against, or attempting by force to overthrow, or bearing arms against, the United States.” Burning a flag, under U.S. law, is not a treasonous act.

A person also risks losing citizenship if he or she voluntarily renounces nationality, pledges allegiance to a foreign state or a political subdivision, serves in the armed forces of another country, especially if they are “engaged in hostilities” against the U.S.

For naturalized citizens — those who are born abroad — grounds for losing citizenship include joining or becoming affiliated with certain organizations, such as the Communist party or a terrorist organization within five years of naturalization.

In 1990, the Supreme Court declared that laws against desecrating the flag are unconstitutional and that flag burning is an example of constitutionally protected free speech.

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