I admit it – I am one of those mushy types who still gets goose bumps when I stand with a crowd to sing the national anthem; I get positively teary saying the Pledge of Allegiance. When I look at the stars and stripes, I don’t see cloth — I see everything that gives the flag its meaning: the principles enshrined in the Declaration of
I admit it – I am one of those mushy types who still gets goose bumps when I stand with a crowd to sing the national anthem; I get positively teary saying the Pledge of Allegiance. When I look at the stars and stripes, I don’t see cloth — I see everything that gives the flag its meaning: the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
It still seems miraculous to me that a group of colonists — even those who were relatively well off, relatively well educated – could fashion a constitutional democracy so respectful o individual liberty, so tolerant of political dissent, and so open to the expression of ideas inconsistent with their own. When I look at our flag, I see the American commitment to a system that has given more people more freedom than any other.
It is precisely because I care so intensely about the integrity of the flag as a symbol that I am disheartened by the recurring attempts to enforce respect for the piece of cloth by ignoring the principles it stands for.
Once again, Congress is considering a constitutional amendment to outlaw flag desecration. As Ira Glasser observed during a prior attempt to remove flag burning from the protection of the First Amendment, such proposals reflect the fact that we are offended by desecration of the flag. But women are offended by speech denigrating women; Jews are offended by swastikas and anti-Semitic speech. Muslims are offended by The Satanic Verses. Shall we make exceptions to the First Amendment in those instances also?
If there is any freedom that is basic to our identity as Americans, it is our rights to free expression of political beliefs, no matter how repugnant particular beliefs may be to others. The "marketplace of ideas" was the bedrock on which the founders built the Bill of Rights. By what conceivable logic do we honor the flag by dishonoring that for which it stands?
I understand the visceral reaction to flag burning. I share that reaction. But the act cannot be interpreted as anything other an expression of a political opinion. It is an opinion with which I violently disagree. Thanks to the same First Amendment that protects the expression of that opinion, I have the freedom to express my disgust and disagreement.
Dissidents and malcontents who choose to make a point by burning a flag cannot desecrate Old Glory. But by betraying the most fundamental principle it symbolizes, we can.