Flag Burning And The Destruction Of Symbols

17 07 2006

The flag-burning issue seems to have slipped past with out much attention, but I see a larger problem at hand. Proponents argue it harms no person nor their property (unless you are like these people). But what about hate-speech?

From Dennis Peacocke:

Few issues are more emotionally charged or politically complex than that of the legality of burning our nation’s flag. Amidst the current controversies of our war in Iraq, an amendment banning flag burning once again faced the challenge of garnering the necessary two-thirds to move it on in the process of becoming law and lost by a mere one vote. The passion generated on both sides of the issue is compelling. Where should true patriots stand? Let’s take a quick look together and attempt to answer the question.

The United States and our founding documents were established on a foundation of a supreme quest for religious and political freedom. The first settlers were driven here by the desire to evade the narrow political-religious pressures of Europe to fulfill an optimistic vision of serving both conscience and God as seemed fitting to the convictions of each and every individual. The “balancing act” between the needs of the community for safety and order and the individual’s need for personal liberty are interwoven throughout both our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. The supreme nobility of this challenging balance stated in those documents makes them the world’s best examples of the most advanced political thinking in human history. Be that as it may, it does not in and of itself easily resolve the question at hand.

How is it possible to hold a nation together when one man will give his life to die, protecting the flag as his national symbol, while another American burns it in angry protest at the same time in the nation’s streets? The answer is, “with great difficulty.” Indeed, the reality of a compelling transcendent value which reconciles this dichotomy is all that makes this unity possible. That compelling transcendent value is simply this: the right to express oneself in political protest which damages neither property nor others personal liberty. That is what the founding fathers gave to us, regardless of how onerously some take it to the precipice.

But is that the end of it? How is it that burning the flag does not engender the same “intolerable rage” which currently is outlawed under the banner of “hate speech?” Why are homosexual “faggot talk,” “right wing fascist,” “spick,” “nigger,” or “wetback” racial slurs legally or socially so universally abhorred, as they should be, but in addition “beyond public toleration?” Here is the challenge: As ugly, inflammatory, and unacceptable as these terms are to all of us, they are no less outrageous than flag burning to the millions of men and women in our armed forces who pledge and give their lives to defend it.

Once again, our nation is confounded by the lack of courage to have a sustained national debate on exactly what our transcendent values are and how we are defining what American citizenship truly means. The flag is the latest elephant under the rug to reappear; it goes on the list with our insane fear of a public national apology for slavery, the genocide of the indigenous first nation people, and other large elephants trumpeting from underneath our nation’s rug. And they won’t go away until dealt with.

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