There was a bit of a kerfuffle last Friday over at Zip’s place when the topic of folks turning the American flag into a charcoal briquette came up.
The idea proposed was that this behavior – the torching of the Stars and Stripes – be made illegal and punished by some time in the slammer.
I disagreed. Respectfully, I might add.
The debate was spirited and interesting … and was cut off when some impolite comments were made and that was that. Until now, since I’ve decided to revive this most interesting discussion.
Now, don’t get me wrong here, I’ve never burned a flag in my life. OK, there was that one time in Boy Scouts, be we did it the right way. But, I wonder, has there been a recent nationwide rash of assaults on Old Glory I haven’t hear about?
Flag burning’s a popular pastime outside of America. Hell, you can barely go a day around the world without seeing some enthusiastic young men (usually) expressing their most deeply held feelings while risking the third-degree burns that often come from mixing flammable liquids, a nylon U.S. flag and a match. The results are often most humorous. You can burn a flag, but it may take its revenge from the grave as it burns you while melting into your stupid ass.
But here in the states the issue really didn’t come up until 1984 when Gregory Lee Johnson was arrested for burning a flag outside the GOP convention in Dallas. Had to be Dallas, didn’t it? “Hey, instead of burning a flag in Texas how ‘bout you wrap yourself in a dead antelope and walk across the African veldt? You’d stand a better chance of survival.”
Johnson was charged with violating Texas’ law against vandalizing respected objects. He was convicted, sentenced to a year in jail and fined $2,000.
Believe it or not, the Texas Supreme Court let Johnson walk when it overturned his conviction. The court said, in part and according to Wikipedia, "Recognizing that the right to differ is the centerpiece of our First Amendment freedoms, a government cannot mandate by fiat a feeling of unity in its citizens. Therefore that very same government cannot carve out a symbol of unity and prescribe a set of approved messages to be associated with that symbol…"
That’s the Texas Supremes there, not no liberal Caleefornyuns or Massa…Massa…Hell, that state where Kerry’s from-yuns.
Our own Supremes here in D.C. later, in a very mixed 5-4 opinion, upheld the Texas Supremes decision.
They were right.
Shock. Gasp. Horrors.
Now I’m not saying I believe burning a flag’s my idea of fun afternoon of protesting. In fact, it’s pretty stupid (see above for possible side effects). What I don’t think it is is wrong.
I’ve been an Eagle Scout, a Marine and a journalist. (Can anyone name three famous writers who were also Marines? Excluding moi, of course.) Even when I was a Marine I thought burning a flag was dumb.
What, to me, was a more offensive use of the flag, you ask? Watching members of the Knights of the White Camellia (aka the KKK) march around the outskirts of Vidor, Texas, carrying an American flag. Jackasses.
Jake Blues had it right, “I hate Illinois Nazis.”
But I, and my fellow Marines, would have fought to the death (hopefully someone else’s) to protect *your* right to burn that flag or for those idiots to march behind one. The same flag, I will add, that covers our coffins when we take our final dirt nap.
My thoughts on this are similar to those of Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii). During the 2006 debate on a flag burning amendment in the Senate, Inouye called flag burning "obscene, painful and unpatriotic."
However, Inouye, a Medal of Honor recipient who lost an arm in Italy during World War II while fighting with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, also said, "But I believe Americans gave their lives in the many wars to make certain that all Americans have a right to express themselves – even those who harbor hateful thoughts."
The amendment, which had overwhelmingly passed the House, failed by one vote (66-34) in the Senate.
Burning a flag may annoy me and offend the Texas Supremes, the Supremes and Senator Inouye, but if you take away that right, which one is the next to go? Going to (or not going to) the church of your choice? Newspapers investigating the government? Peaceably assembling and petitioning the government for the redress of grievances?
What do you think?