posted by gut
It's free speech if no one's property is harmed and not directed at some non-public figure specifically. However, this is pretty clearly an act of intimidation (throwing it in front of a gay bar) no different than lighting a cross on fire in someone's yard. So the crime is intimidation/harassment and really has little to do with burning the Pride flag.
Now if they randomly burn a Pride flag at a KKK rally, then I think that's an expression of free speech and not a crime. Although, if they burned a cross would that be a crime?
Pretty much where I land on it. It would seem pretty apparent that it's meant to be intimidating (though honestly, at this point, I'm not sure I'd be surprised if it was someone who was just looking to stir up controversy or even by someone gay in order to paint himself as a victim). The parallel you drew from was the same one that came to mind for me as well. If someone burned a cross in the street in front of a black family's home, that would obviously be for intimidation as well.
I'm curious, though. How is it that people so quickly recognized what it was? If someone set a flag of any variety on fire outside one of the local bars here and threw it down in the parking lot and ran off, I'm betting the flag would have burned up before anyone would have had time to see what it was. I mean, I know a flag isn't flash paper, but it's hardly a couch, either. Maybe I'm wrong. Just seems weird that someone recognized a flag that was on fire at night.
In any case, the burning of the flag itself doesn't matter. It's the circumstances of it. Drawing my thumb across my neck in my office alone means nothing. If I do it while staring down a witness in a courtroom, it's intimidating a witness.