Wednesday, July 05, 2006
On the subject of Flag Burning:
I reserve the right to burn a flag in the same way that I reserve the right to burn down my own home*. I am an American and that symbol belongs to me. I donít foresee the circumstances that might motivate me to do so; but I am not so foolish as to imagine that there are none.
If America goes Nazi Germany, our founding documents explicitly state that I have been endowed by my Creator with an inalienable RIGHT to do a hella lot more than torch a 3x7 piece of cotton/poly. The freedom to burn that flag is a more powerful symbol of the principles of limited government and freedom of expression than the flag itself. A symbolic act is sometimes more meaningful than a static symbol.
I suppose that may come from being a Girl Scout. Girl Scouts are awesome in that they have a ceremony to burn flags. (The appropriate way to dispose of a flag thatís touched the ground or thatís gotten worn out. Almost nobody remembers that anymore.) Other organizations give old flags to the Girl Scouts for disposal. I get such a kick out of the ways Girl Scouts are so ballsy compared to Boy Scouts. I also get a kick outta the teaching feature. Any girl who dropped a flag and then had to go about the hassle of ritually destroying it, has tons more respect for the power of that symbol than almost anyone but a veteran. (Little tiny kids are given a pass, but by about 12, as I recall, you were expected to treat the flag with due reverence.) Burning a flag can be a sign or reverence or irreverence, I reserve the right to both.
That said, I have very little respect for those who burn flags now. Burning a symbol that so many have cherished and died for should be an act reserved for times serious enough that the actual reality of America is threatened. While weíre closer to Nazi Germany today than weíve been for most of the past 60 years, weíre still a long long ways away. When one branch of government starts attacking or dismissing the others, then Iíll consider it. Though, by the time itís really serious enough to be burning the flag, itís probably time to try other tactics.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.Reflexive antiestablishmentarianism can be just as destructive an impulse as unthinking jingoism. The fringes are guilty of both.
*Exempting the complicating issues of damage to other homes, or fraud in the case of insurance and/or mortgages. I have the right to do as I wish with my own property, as long as I don't damage the property of others. That means I have every right to burn my flag but not your flag. The symbol of the flag is the collective property of the American people, to use as each of us chooses. It is good manners to respect symbols that large numbers of people revere, but it should never be considered mandatory, let alone legally binding. We do not punish disrespect of symbols - not the cross, or images of Mohammed, or the flag, or effigies of our elected leaders.
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