Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Flag Desecration

Last week, the United States Senate missed by only one vote passing a proposed Constitutional amendment to authorize Congress to outlaw "physical desecration" of the United States flag. Many people have referred to this as the "flag-burning" amendment, but in fact it does not even mention burning. It would be left to Congress to determine what acts constitute "desecration" of the flag.


The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.
One of my Senators here in California, Dianne Feinstein, not only voted in favor of this odious bit of political showboating, she signed on as principal Democratic co-sponsor. She signed on because Senator Dianne Feinstein hates our freedom.
Mr. President, I rise as the main Democratic sponsor of this amendment. I have given this a lot of thought for a long time. I believe what we have before us is language that is essentially content neutral. It is on conduct — not speech. ... [T]here is no idea or thought expressed by the burning of the American flag that cannot be expressed equally well in another manner. While I might disagree with those who protest, I defend their right to do so. ... As President Woodrow Wilson, who proclaimed the first Flag Day in 1916, said:
This flag, which we honor and under which we serve, is the emblem of our unity, our power, our thought and purpose as a nation. It has no other character than that which we give it from generation to generation. ... Though silent, it speaks to us — speaks to us of the past, of the men and women who went before us, and of the records they wrote upon it.
Utter hogwash! The First Amendment guarantees "freedom of speech, [and] of the press," but it protects all forms of expression, most especially political expression. There can be no shadow of a doubt that desecration of the flag is political expression, every bit as much as standing in the public square speaking on the issues of the day. There can also be no doubt that — precisely because of its offensiveness — burning the flag makes a point that cannot be expressed in any other way. The quote from President Wilson is a good one, but not for the purpose Senator Feinstein used it. The flag is an emblem which has no other character than that which we give it. Are we going to give the flag the character of freedom, of open and vigorous debate and dissent, or are we going to give it the character of enforced conformity, of marching in lock-step with all the others who are patriotic not out of choice or free will but out of fear of the government?

I love my country, and I love our flag, but I have the perspective to see that the flag is no more than a symbol. Some of my friends talk about how their fathers and grandfathers fought and sometimes died for the flag; if indeed they did, then they fought in vain. The flag is only a piece of cloth; it is precious only because it represents liberty. If we slash away at our liberties, then what point is there in having a symbol for them? Those who fight and die for our liberties deserve our respect; those who fight and die for a mere piece of cloth deserve our scorn.

Beyond that, of course, is the simple question, What makes this an urgent issue? [Or, if you prefer, Where's the fire?] There were a whopping four reported incidents of flag desecration in 2005. Last week in Brooklyn, New York, vandals burned the flags flying on several homes along one street, but that was a crime of vandalism and arson. Your right to freedom of political expression does not extend to burning someone else's flag, any more than it extends to spray-painting your slogan on someone else's wall. We don't need a flag "protection" amendment to prosecute such miscreants.

There are also one or two things the Congress might have turned its attention to — urgently pressing issues like boys kissing, pork-barrel "Homeland Security" projects, proclaiming National Broccoli and Cauliflower Appreciation Day, the war in Iraq, out-of-control deficit spending, even worse out-of-control trade deficits, stealing from the poor to give to the rich, global warming, FEMA, first-responder preparedness, and literally thousands of other issues that have far more impact on the lives of ordinary Americans.

Make no mistake: the only reason this issue was raised was to provide politicians an opportunity to desecrate the flag in the most vile and despicable possible fashion: by lowering the flag to the status of a mere prop in the gutter of political demagoguery. The 66 Senators who voted for the amendment desecrated not only the flag, they desecrated the Constitution.

Look at it this way — suppose we rephrase the proposed amendment just a little bit:
You will treat this symbol of freedom with respect and reverence, or else we will throw your ass in jail!
My wording strips away the veneer of respectability, but it is not one iota more hypocritical than the Congress' wording.

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