The punishment should not be exaggerated/extreme. However, a fine and question of nationality should be up for debate when someone is as ignorant and disrespectful to burn a flag. If you are a citizen and your burn your own country's flag, why are you even a citizen of the United States? Obviously you have a grudge or form of hatred against the country. So I think they should pay a couple of hundred dollars just to put them in check.
When you burn the flag, the one that the folks died under defending your right to be a jerk, you're spitting on them and they have done nothing wrong to you. Check yourself before you think about putting a torch to a flag and remember those who died beneath those colors.
Three words: freedom of speech. I understand the flag “represents” a great deal in this country; however, ultimately it is nothing more than a piece of cloth. Symbols are given meaning by human beings, so ultimately the flag will mean different things for different people. Limiting one’s ability to express how they feel about this great symbol is an infringement on basic rights.
Symbolic icons of the state should not be exclusively protected due to what they represent. It restricts freedom of expression and creates an environment in which the government has the power to restrict innocent acts for its own sake rather than for the sake of the common man and his right to share his beliefs.
The freedom to express one's self artistically is an extremely important feature of American society. Just because an expression is unpopular, it doesn't mean it should be illegal. If it does no harm to others, then there is no reason to censor it, just because we disagree with them. That type of action can quickly become a slippery-slope action that erodes the basic freedom that many people find so important to American society.