Sunday, June 11, 2006

Real Flag Desecration

The House of Representatives has voted in favor of a Constitutional amendment to prevent flag desecration. All 50 state legislatures are on record as favoring such an amendment. And later this month the amendment will come to a vote in the Senate, where it is reportedly within one vote of passage.

I never understood why flag burning was such an issue. After all, the U.S. Code recommends burning as a dignified way of disposing of a flag when it is “no longer a fitting emblem for display”. Clearly it's not the burning itself that's a problem; what's at issue is the reason for the burning. As a means of flag disposal, it expresses respect, while as a means of protest, it expresses the opposite.

The problem with this is that the expression of disrespect falls squarely under the First Amendment's free-speech guarantee, one of the bedrock principles of American democracy. To abridge this principle is to chip away at the very foundation of our liberty. In seeking to protect the symbol, we risk desecrating the reality it symbolizes.

The irony of this is that the flag really seems to be in very little danger. The era of widespread flag-burning, such a mainstay of Vietnam War protests, is behind us. We might as well add the passenger pigeon to the federal endangered species list.

However, it turns out that if flag burning is passé, subtler instances of desecration are still occurring. The website of cites three chilling recent examples:

  1. In April, 2006, protesters in Costa Mesa, CA held the flag upside down, violating Section 8a of the Flag Code.
  2. At Super Bowl XLVIII, Kid Rock wore a flag as clothing, violating Section 8d.
  3. In July, 2003, President George W. Bush autographed a small flag, violating Section 8g: “The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.”
This, I say, is a real problem. If the President of the United States can blithely desecrate our Flag, not to mention the Constitution it symbolizes, then truly none of us is safe.