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:
- The energy and calumny spent in attacking the flag takes away from energy spent in sabotage.
- 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]