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By Greg L | 27 June 2006 | US Senate | 6 Comments

Perhaps the most unpopular form of political expression possible would be to set fire to the American Flag. Anyone doing this immediately and irrevocably identifies themself as a total idiot who is unworthy of the freedoms secured on their behalf by so many who fought under that same flag.

But the idea that Congress should enact criminal sanctions to punish those who might do this is nonsense. Idiots can and do burn our flag, and in no way harm the ideals that flag represents our our reverence of those ideals or the flag which represents them. As with all free expression, those who speak are held accountable by public opinion for their expression, which is all the sanction our nation will ever need for responsible, and irresponsible expression. Self-identification as a fool and the resulting public reaction is entirely sufficient.

And to those who feel observing such a display is too offensive, I remind you that there is no guarantee political expression will not be. You are not protected from being offfended by the speech or expression of others, nor should you ever be in this country. This is not the place to begin to enforce control ensuring politically correct public expression.

Let’s hope the Senate understands this today.

UPDATE: enough of them did, and the Senate rejected this legislation. It’ll likely be back, unfortunately.

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  1. AWCheney said on 27 Jun 2006 at 11:32 pm:
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    Not being familiar with the specific wording of the legislation, I can’t really form an opinion about that…BUT (isn’t there always a “but”), the burning of the American flag should bear some consequences. Consider how many brave patriots died defending the right to fly that flag; consider how many soldiers lost their lives literally protecting that flag on the battlefield throughout the history of this nation; and consider how few true symbols of patriotism still exist for our children (most can’t even recite the “Pledge of Allegiance” anymore). It’s perhaps one of the, if not THE (given that the Statue of Liberty has lost considerable meaning over the years), most important symbols of this country around the world. Why do you think that the burning of the American flag has so much meaning to people who hate us, and what we stand for? Should it have less meaning to us?

  2. James Young said on 27 Jun 2006 at 11:55 pm:
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    For once, I can agree with the first commenter. The problem with your analysis is that the idiocy of the amendment is provoked by the idiocy of a Supreme Court confusing “actions” with “speech” in Texas v. Johnson. So long as the Supreme Court chooses to issue such foolish decisions (see, i.e., Dred Scott v. Sanford), the people are forced to react in the only way that they can. At least this time, people aren’t talking about a civil war to right the Supreme Court’s wrongs.

  3. Greg L said on 28 Jun 2006 at 12:22 am:
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    I certainly understand reverence to the flag, and would never support it’s desecration. I just think that the public outrage that would result is all of the sanction needed as a consequence of this despicable act.

    I read a story about a POW in Vietnam who’s interrogator showed him photos of protestors burning the flag and asseted that America was wrong, and this was proof. His response was that this was proof America was right, because the government didn’t fear this form of political expression, as dumb as it was. His interrogator was infuriated at this, and effectively defeated by his response.

    The more we legally allow unpopular speech, but battle it in the court of public opinion instead, the more we implement our founder’s vision of what this country should aspire to be. Don’t take that as a belief of mine that I think this is a good way to protest — I think it’s abominable and am outraged and disturbed by it — but I would rather suffer that outrage than prosecute someone by force of law for being an idiot in how they choose to express themselves.

  4. AWCheney said on 28 Jun 2006 at 12:24 am:
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    As I said James, I haven’t followed the specific legislation. If it was the prelude to an Amendment to the US Constitution, I also would be opposed, as I am opposed in general to amendments cluttering up that document when the issue either properly belongs to the States or in legislation.

  5. AWCheney said on 28 Jun 2006 at 12:45 am:
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    Greg, at the least the burning of the American flag should be construed as the destruction of American (not personal) property. This is really not a matter of “free speech.” In some ways it is akin to the “yelling fire in the movie theater” exception in that it is a very public show of contempt for our country and our history. Our children glean little of the rich early history of this country in school nowadays…the kind of history I learned which gave me such respect for the patriotic foundation upon which this country was set. This generation is largely dependent upon what we, as their parents, teach them with regard to respect for our history, our country, and the symbols thereof. Unfortunately, most aren’t giving their kids that. How many are really familiar with the symbolism attached to that flag? Perhaps, if its desecration bears consequences (even if only a misdemeanor), perhaps that might provide some incentive to learn why.

  6. NoVA Scout said on 29 Jun 2006 at 10:56 pm:
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    Nice post, Greg.

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