Flag Burning Again?

When I was young, I was puzzled as to why we would pledge allegiance to a flag. So, once in a while, I’d “forget” to mention it, along with my more frequent pauses while others intoned “under God”. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of symbols; and seeing re-enactments of the raising of the Stars and Stripes at Iwo Jima gave me the kind of chills that Francis Scott Key must’ve had while watching the shelling of Fort McHenry. Still, to my mind, America is an idea much more than a symbol, and symbols don’t always last forever. I have great respect for the flag, but even greater love for our Constitution, and the history and ideals that make us Americans.

So whenever politicians try to bring back some sort of flag-burning amendment, such as the one that recently passed the US House of Representatives, I become dismayed. Why? Because it goes against the very first amendment, which holds that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech …”

But aren’t certain acts, certain speech, hateful by their nature? Yes, but not necessarily dangerous, as in the proverbial crying of fire! in a crowded theatre. Hatred is an emotion, and so long as it does not break out into discrimination or violence, is protected. It is part of the full spectrum of human feelings. To outlaw hatred is to outlaw humanity. Even when it galls, nay, pains us, to hear the contempt with which some people treat the symbol that has helped rally our people no less than our fighting men, the symbol which, simply by being there, through the perilous fight, gave us hope and the will to go on, it is nevertheless part of the very package, the very set of freedoms, for which it stands.

And, beyond the fact that such an amendment would undermine the very spirit of the Constitution, there are two benefits for continuing to allow people to burn or otherwise descrate the flag:

  1. The energy and calumny spent in attacking the flag takes away from energy spent in sabotage.

  2. It’s better to be able to figure out who the kooks are by their own words, so that one may treat them with the cold contempt they deserve.

But, of course, leave it to the Republicans to come up with this sort of amendment. For all the statist socialism of the Democrats, the Republicans are no better when it comes to attempting to foist their sensibilities upon the rest of the nation as an amendment to the Constitution.

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

17 thoughts on “Flag Burning Again?”

  1. Those who desecrate the flag of the country make me see red. However, the flag is a symbol of a country whose constitution guarantees the right to desecrate it flag. One may burn the flag but that does not burn the country that is still offers the most personal freedom and economic opportunity on earth.

  2. Whenever Congress passes feel-good legislation like this, watch your wallet and your freedoms. The main political consequence (and I assume intention) of passing this amendment now is to divert attention from wanton federal spending and from civil-liberties boondoggles (e.g., the Real ID amendment and parts of the Patriot Act).

  3. I was surprised to find that many of our most conservative Republicans voted against HJ Res.10.

    According to this post by Razib at Gene Expression, it is congressmen sporting high conservative ratings from the American Conservative Union who are voting with Demi on this one.

    Perhaps there is a thread of libertarianism left in the GOP after all.

  4. Vox Populi, Vox Dia. The question put before us, is whether you believe the people should be rule themselves or rather the little darlings should, in Euorpean fashion, be ruled by their betters. You might not like the admendment, but the amount of political capital to enact one means that in a truely democratic society, that the people really mean it. Yes it is a symptom which doesn’t address the real underlying disease, but those trying the manage or game the process are trying their best to avoid the direct solution. Our judiciary has assumed ermine trimmed robes of aristocratic powers. They have placed themselves into our everyday lives, into every corner of our society, all while sitting for life and, to use their own terms, defacto unaccountable to the people. Congress has demonstrated beyond any question they will not remove judges who act outside the constraints of the Constitution. Waiting till they die or grow so senile as to have to leave the bench is no longer acceptable. The amount of power these modern princes have accumulated is demonstrated in the harsh political process of confirmation the Senate displays as we sit here today. Ending the filibuster is only a Missouri Compromise delaying what really needs to be addressed. The real admendment that is needed is the one to follow the XVII which made Senators directly accountable to the people. It is well past time the judicary which has assumed powers to intrude so much into our lives, to take a phrase from Jefferson, derive their powers directly from the consent of the govern. As long as that path is avoid, be prepared for more of these ‘peoples initiatives’ to reclaim their right to define their society and to rule themselves.

  5. I myself would rather see someone destroy a flag as an intentional political protest than to witness the many flags destroyed by neglect. It is quite common to drive around town and see flags run up by businesses and individuals that are left to rot into tatters. At least the protesters treat the flag as a important symbol. Those who neglect flags treat them as disposable decoration with no particular important.

    I used to make it habit of pestering business to take care of their flags. I even went so far as a “rescue” a couple without permission. Eventually, I just gave up. Flag neglect is just to common.

    I would hope that if congress does pass laws to protect the flag (which I don’t think is actually necessary) then I hope they also address the matter of neglect as well.

  6. I don’t have a problem with protecting flag-burning as a free-speech right; I just wish the moonbats would have the cojones do it in front of the VFW on Saturday night ;)

  7. I’ve seen it treated as a property rights issue. You paid for it; you can pretty much do with it what you like.

    I can understand people identifying themselves strongly with symbols (Muslims with Korans), so burning a flag does seem patently and unnecesarily offensive.

    But I’d have to throw in my lot with demimasque on this one; we’ve got bigger fish to fry (e.g. that eminent domain ruling per Shannon).

  8. You want to burn the American Flag…no problem…just let me wrap you in the Flag first…then feel free to burn it!

  9. Speech
    According to the dictionary (ISBN 87779-508-8), Speech is defined as follows.
    1. The communication or expression of thoughts in spoken words.
    2. Exchange of spoken words: CONVERSATION
    3. Something that is spoken: UTTERANCE
    4. A public discourse: ADDRESS
    6. An individual manner or style of speaking
    7. The power of expressing or communciating thoughts by speaking.

    No indication in any of these definitions even hint that speech means anything other than the spoken word.

    If I was to take a flag, march to a street corner and set it afire in protest, how would anyone know what I was protesting unless I accompanied this act with a verbal discourse (or written pamphlet)?
    I assume everyone believes that the written word is a “form” of free speech. But isn’t the written word “Freedom of the Press” as enumerated in the 1st ammendment? Were the founding fathers being redundant by including speech and press in the same breath?
    Our flag is recognized as a symbol of freedom. Flag desecration can be better described as a lack of respect. By allowing it we show the world our real value system; one that honors little and respects even less.
    I don’t believe we need an ammendment either. If protesters cannot make their point through the written or spoken word, they ought to shut up or go back to school to learn the art of expression!


    Republicans think that they are some kind of country-defending saints because of the flag burning stink they’ve raised. The truth is that republicans will fight to the death in order to stop the American flag from being burned but almost all of them support flying confederate flags. Now let me ask the public a question, which is more “anti-american” to burn a U.S. flag out of protest or to fly a flag that once stood for treason against the United States Government? Burning the U.S. flag and flying the rebel flag are two ways of saying the same thing yet republicans will never try to ban confederate flag flying because all of them are confederates! Ask me what a real American is and I’ll show you someone burning a rebel flag!!!

  11. Jonathan,

    First, if you’re going to insult people in capital letters, at least get the spelling right. Otherwise, it makes you appear as an even bigger moron than you obviously are.

    Also, before you spout forth howlers, like “republicans will never try to ban confederate flag flying because all of them are confederates!”, You might want to check the politcal affiliation of a minor historical figure named Abraham Lincoln. Here’s what I found with a moment of Googling:

    As President, he built the Republican Party into a strong national organization. Further, he rallied most of the northern Democrats to the Union cause. On January 1, 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared forever free those slaves within the Confederacy.

    Finally, you must not be aware that it was Republican Senators and Reps that got the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 & 1965 passed:

    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 came to a vote after a 57-day filibuster engineered by Southern Democrats among them Sen. Al Gore Sr. father of the current Democratic presidential nominee. (Gore refused to vote to end the filibuster despite a personal plea from President Lyndon Johnson.) In the face of serious Democratic opposition, only strong Republican support could end the filibuster and ensure that the bill became law.
    When the final congressional vote was tallied, Republican support exceeded Democratic support by a substantial margin. Eighty percent of House Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act, but only 63 percent of Democrats. Eighty-two percent of Senate Republicans voted yea, while only 69 percent of Democrats did so.
    The Voting Rights Act of 1965 played out in a similar fashion. Eighty-five percent of House Republicans voted for the bill, compared with 80 percent of Democrats. In the Senate, the margin was greater: 97 percent of Republicans vs. 74 percent of Democrats.

    Maybe YOU are the one in the wrong party after all.

  12. Jonathan wrote:

    Burning the U.S. flag and flying the rebel flag are two ways of saying the same thing yet republicans will never try to ban confederate flag flying because all of them are confederates!

    If you make absurd statements and insult people you shouldn’t be surprised if you get a harsh response. Now you want to change the subject with Mike and make nice with another commenter. Is this how you usually behave in discussions?

    If you want to comment on our blog, please avoid making personal attacks. And if you start an argument, have the courtesy not to change the subject if someone who disagrees with you responds.

  13. I don’t understand in what way Hiteshew’s argument implied anything about Jonathan’s race nor his political affiliation. As our Jonathan points out, he was talking about historical specifics. In what way does such speculation further the discussion?

    Lincoln pushed through legislation to build the railroads that connect this country; his vision was intelligent and far-seeing and this was partially because he was a lawyer for the railroad. He was a complex man. His emphasis upon commerce might still seem a Republican value; he was optimistic about technology. Also his references to a Providential order (and the providential punishment of a bloody civil war to the country guilty of allowing slavery) uses terms that trip more quickly from a modern Republican’s tongue than a Democrat’s.

    The Republican party came into being to fight slavery. When I was young there was an African-American senator; he was a Republican. You will certainly find more KKK members in the Democratic party.

    Your government class(es?) argue that the parties reversed their stands because the assumption was that Civil Rights and the equality for which my teachers marched (in Selma for instance) and the legislation that Mr. Hiteshew describes are carried on in spirit in affirmative action, set asides, and such policies as Title IX, gay marriage, and abortion. Emphasis on state’s rights, too, appears to have changed. This is not an unreasonable argument but I suspect in many ways the policies of the Democratic party at the turn of the century and during the depression are more in line with the Utopian policies and implied statism of modern Democrats, while the vision of the reformists resembles Republican positions.

    And as for the Confederate flag – this is not a party division but a geographic one; it was a symbol in the south when it was solidly Democratic. This is not a symbol that was honored in any way in the midwest (and in the state that was often called the most Republican in the union and now the reddest). Assuming most (and only) Republicans fly it is ahistorical.

    Frankly, I always found Joan Baez singing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” lovely but clearly she bought into a sentimental nostalgia, which seemed worse when sung by a self-righteous leftist. That popularity arises from an affection for lost causes, for some kind of gracious, traditional & agrarian past that some people find embodied in the Confederate flag. And the values and even prejudices of that culture have been picked up by the anti-globalization, Sierra Club luddites of today. (Accompanying these often positive values then and today is paternalism and snti-semitism.) That people feel that without thinking may be irritating & not very bright but it doesn’t make them evil (and clearly it doesn’t make them all Republican).

    Jen’s good humored discussion and Jonathan’s less honorable approach seem to arise without enough context. By the way, many conservative Republicans are at least as opposed to laws limiting flag burning as are Democrats.

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