In Defense of Burning The Flag

Random Lengths News | July 5, 2006
"When the government fears the people there is liberty; when the people fear the government there is tyranny". -Thomas Jefferson Author of the Declaration of Independence and Third U.S. President

For the past decade or so, on or about June 14, national Flag Day, and up to the day Washington DC goes home for the July 4th barbeques, the US Congress has pilloried itself on the symbolic nature of our national flag– Old Glory– as it is known by some. This year, they attempted yet again to waste their time and our taxes on the debate over amending the US Constitution to prohibit burning the stars and stripes. This debate–cloaked in patriotism–by those sworn to defend and protect is as divisive of our nation as it is a distraction from our true course. Hawaii Democrat Daniel Inouye, a WWII Medal of Honor winner, joined GOP chicken-hawks in saying flag-burning "is obscene, it is painful, it is unpatriotic," but then voted against the amendment, saying, "But I believe Americans gave their lives in many wars to make certain all Americans have a right to express themselves, even those who harbor hateful thoughts."

I protest this annual ritual. It is an exercise in stupidity. The original premise of an amendment to the US Constitution was conceived as a means to protect – ascribe to and guarantee– the fundamental rights and liberties of the people. Not to take them away! In the entire history of this country there has only been but one example, the 18th Amendment, in which Congress passed and the states ratified the taking away of a liberty– which was the misguided idea of prohibition– thinking that government could better mankind by outlawing liquor. This of course didn’t sit well with Americans who continued drinking and gave rise to one of the largest criminal enterprises of the 1920’s, smuggling and selling booze. It was finally repealed by the 21st Amendment in July of 1933 when the country and its politicians came to their senses realizing the huge tax base they were loosing out on.

As our history shows, the taking away of liberties, even for questionable moral reasons, is a mistake. It should not be repeated over something as symbolic as the flag. There are various reasons on the other hand, both patriotic and not, to promote flag burning. As I recall, when a flag has fallen and touched the ground or is damaged beyond use there is an official ceremony by which the Stars and Stripes is ritually burned. No one seems to be offended by this.

Our government from time to time has taken upon itself to act against the freedoms it espouses in its most hallowed documents––attempting to restrict the individual liberties and freedom. But as I mentioned above, it has only acted once to push back freedom by amending the Constitution, and this was repealed. The test of whether any law or amendment should be passed should be held up to answer this one question– does the law affirm or deny the basic American creed of liberty and justice for all? If it does not then those who are sworn to uphold and defend this countries’ Constitution must by obligation vote nay, against it. I sometimes wonder if any of these over-paid Representatives in Congress have actually read the Bill of Rights?

So in response to these super-patriotic Congressional flag wavers and some of you too, I propose that we the people declare every June 15th “Flag Burning Day.” A day in which it is appropriate to destroy old or damaged flags (most of them are made in China these days), and for those bent on political dissent to gather together or separately in the town square or at their place of government with their Zippo lighters and burn a few flags. This might just be the kind of event that brings the right and left of this country together, if only for divergent reasons on the same day.

The problem of outlawing the desecration of the national flag is that the act of burning it can be an expression of political dissent and as actions are known to speak louder than words, this is absolutely a prohibition of free speech and therefore unconstitutional. But this issue of flag burning is meant, in a deceptive way to distract from the true and honest debates of our day– the erosion of our civil liberties on the grounds of protecting us from terrorism.

Ben Franklin opined early on that, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” And it is still true today as our country drifts from its basic creed of liberty and justice and fails to fulfill its promise of the inalienable rights of man.

We must remember on this national day of independence that this is a day of affirmation of things that are self evident, which do not need to be proved in a court of law or in Congress but which need be defended against those who forget, or they may be taken from us by those of high position or authority out of ignorance, greed or lust for power. The Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence are the affirmations of the promise of being free– not a guarantee that you will be.

It is both the promise and a curse that it is left up to each generation to defend these rights and to protect them against the tyranny and abuses of their day.

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