Stupid flag burning amendment

Thursday 23 June 2005

Once again, the Congress is trying to amend the constitution. This time, it's to ban desecration of the flag. The amendment would read "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States." It is generally meant to prevent flag burning. This is so dumb.

First is free speech: Why for the first time in our history will we outlaw a form of political speech that is causing no actual harm? Is this what we've come to? Is the "country" more important than the freedoms it is meant to embody? Free speech hurts: people will want to say things that offend you. So be it. It's only talk.

Second: what is "physical desecration"? For that matter, what is "the flag"? Will I be allowed to cut off the corner of a flag? Can I create a flag with a big hole in the middle? Can I make a non-flag that clearly evokes the flag (say, with three stars and five stripes, or the wrong colors), and then burn it? Can I use a flag to make a jacket and then wear it? Can I fly a flag upside-down? Which of these desecration? Who is to say?

Come to think of it: what about those tiny flags people flew from their car antennas until they were torn and tattered? Will that now be outlawed? Those people were trying to honor the flag and the country, and are probably wholeheartedly behind this amendment. Were they stupider then for flying and then ignoring their flag, or now, for sanctimoniously chipping away at liberties in order to "protect" it?

The whole thing is dumb. Yes, the flag is a symbol of our country, but it is only a symbol. Burning the flag is a powerful statement, but it doesn't cause harm. Patriots will be offended, but the truer patriots among us recognize that allowing flag burning is more essential to our freedoms than banning it. Our country is great, precisely because of those liberties. Banning flag burning will weaken us, not strengthen us. We are strong as a country, strong enough to let dissenters burn the flag.

Comments

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Kevin Dangoor 7:22 AM on 23 Jun 2005

I agree completely... Luckily, this is expected to die in the Senate.

This is one of those amendments that the House goes after every year.

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Chad Schelfhout 9:31 AM on 23 Jun 2005

I disagree with having the ability to burn our country's flag. It represents our country and having disrespect for 'the flag' is having disrespect for our country.

Free speech: There are other ways of demonstrating 'free speech' while still showing respect for our country and our flag.

I do agree that 'physical desecration' is vague.

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Nate Finch 9:32 AM on 23 Jun 2005

Stupid @!#%ing Republicans. For some reason, they think being unpatriotic is a capital crime. Why is burning the flag so bad? Yeah, it essentially means "I hate the US". Umm.. are we next going to outlaw people from saying "I hate the US"?

To quote President Bartlett (from West Wing, for those uninitiated) "is there an epidemic of flag burning I'm not aware of?" And even if there were, would you really want to stop it? It's free speech. Hello, remember the first ammendment? Free speech? Yeah, that's what this flag burning stuff is all about. Free speech or not. If I wanted to live in a country that banned free speech, I'd live in China. I don't. I live in the United States, where if I want to say I hate President Bush, I can't get put in jail for it. I can't get fined, I can't have Secret Service agents come burn my house down in the night. That's what's next, people. Once you allow some free speech to be limited, all free speech becomes fair game.

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Ned Batchelder 9:45 AM on 23 Jun 2005

But Chad, suppose the thing you want to say is, "I don't respect our country"? That sentence isn't outlawed, why outlaw a more symbolic representation of the same sentiment?

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Nate Finch 9:48 AM on 23 Jun 2005

Chad - disrespect for our country is exactly where free speech is needed most. If you can't say "I don't like the way the country is being run" how can things ever change? You say there are other ways of demonstrating free speech.... you don't need to demonstrate free speech, you need to demonstrate your opinion of the country, of the government, of whatever you want. Burning a flag hurts no one. No one's in the hospital because someone burnt a flag on TV. No one is losing money to flag burners (heck, the flag making companies are actually making money off it). It may offend some people, but if that's a crime, everyone's going to jail, since everyone has offended someone else at one time or another.

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Andy Gross 10:19 AM on 23 Jun 2005

Chad -

Don't put too much value in symbols, or conflate symbols with that which they represent. To paraphrase Bill Hicks, no one ever died for a flag - they may have died for freedom, including the freedom to burn a flag.

Free speech is most important when it's 'disrespectful', or perceived so by someone. Otherwise, what good would "free speech" be. Also, I agree to some extent that it is a matter of respect. But thats a dangerous road to go down with respect to legislation - it's a slipperly slope from there to all sorts of orwellian stuff..

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andrew 10:31 AM on 23 Jun 2005

Nate: I can't imagine anything more damaging to a political argument that quoting a fictional character as some kind of fact. Next, I am sure that you will be calling Republicans "Nazis". Come on, its right there on the tip of your tongue...you want to say it...

Ned: political "free speech" was effectively suppressed with the passage of the Campaign Finance "Reform" law. When that passed, the notion of protected political "free speech" was gone too.

FWIW: I don't support the amendment either. Even though it sickens me to be in the same company as unpatriotic assholes and people that hate their own country. It is free speech and that should be that.

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Nate Finch 1:32 PM on 23 Jun 2005

Andrew - I wasn't quoting a fictional character to support a fact. I think that much was perfectly clear from its use. I was using the quote as a lead in to a point. That point being, there just aren't a ton of people in this country burning flags. Plenty of people in other countries like to do it, but our constitution isn't quite that far reaching.

I'm glad to hear you support free speech and acknowledge that burning the flag is a form of free speech. That much seems perfectly clear to me, and I don't see how anyone could argue that point. Given that flag burning is a form of expression, it cannot be banned due to the first amendment. Personally, I think there are things a lot more offensive than burning a flag that are also protected by free speech - calling someone a nigger, spic, kike, fag, etc. Burning the flag is an offense to the country as a whole, and as such, I personally feel more detached from that offense. Calling someone I know a racial slur is a much more personal form of insult, and something that's much more likely to bring out a strong reaction from me.

As Andy said, the flag is a representation of our freedom, our values, our country. If you don't allow people to burn it in protest, you have removed the very freedom the flag stands for, making it a symbol of nothing.

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jonvon 1:55 PM on 23 Jun 2005

it is precisely because burning the flag is powerful *as a symbol* that being allowed to do it is important.

this is a dangerous thing that is happening, the republicans have been trying more and more boldly to control the messages that are out there, in the media and so on. have you seen the latest where they are trying to cut funding for public broadcasting? that is an interesting story to dig into.

the people deserve the truth, whatever that is. we don't need white-house-washed PR that conservatives are comfortable with. we need to be uncomfortable sometimes. it is important. there is no other way to balance things.

it is sometimes about money and power vs what is right and what is true. which is what the boston tea party was all about, and what our country, in its nascent form, was supposedly about. and this is usually what people who tend to burn flags or make other kinds of symbolic demonstrations are trying to communicate.

but whatever the message, "right" or "wrong", we need to be free to say it. the republicans are very big on globalization and free trade. just let the market do what the market wants to do. but they are not so keen on free speech. i wonder why? i find myself asking, quite often, who do they represent?

i used to be registered republican and i used to vote that way too. but i stopped believing they were on my side, that they were there "for the people", somewhere along the line. about the time i realized we were being lied to about iraq, and then we went to war. that kinda broke all of that for me. it was sort of like a dam breaking, and i began to examine a lot of my convictions.

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kudla 2:30 PM on 23 Jun 2005

I got two beefs.

My first is with the flag burners. What's up with you guys? The flag is not a symbol of the current adminstration and/or its policies. It is a symbol of the United States of America. By burning it, you are, by the very nature of the act, saying you don't believe in free speech and the other freedoms that flag represents. Take a civics course.

My second, and by far, biggest beef is with Congress. Nate makes the salient point. There is some flag burning epidemic that threatens the sovereignty of the U.S.?

Don't these lawmakers have anything better to do, like figure out how to make sure I get my Social Security $$$?

Or how about getting our boys & girls out of Iraq before too many more of them are murdered?

I got it. They can subpeona professional athletes to try and find out why and how and if they took steroids.

The should all go back to being gentlemen farmers. At least we got food from those guys....sheesh!

Ned - you got the best blog ever. In between all the crazy software references, you occasionally throw in a provocative, relevant post that makes us all think.

How do you do it?

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andrew 4:20 PM on 23 Jun 2005

And how about SCOTUS handing down a ruling saying that the government can take anything from you at anytime. Revolution, anyone?

worst...supreme...court...EVER.

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Volker Weber 4:26 PM on 23 Jun 2005

Your freedom is overrated. Take your clothes off at the beach and go for a swim. Can't do that, right?

Take your car keys on board a plane:

http://www.boingboing.net/2005/06/23/tsa_confiscates_fold.html

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Omer 4:44 PM on 23 Jun 2005

There's a great bit of history about flag burning begining in 1989 you can read here.

How to property dispose of worn U.S. Flag
here.

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Clint 8:05 PM on 23 Jun 2005

I agree completely, Ned.

As far as the vaugeness of physical desecration, the proposed law is following in good form to the current law on flags. The current law is extremely vauge in many ways. Think you need to shine a light on a flag at nite? Read again. It only says 'properly illuminated.' For that matter, most of us can think of times/places we've seen almost every flag law and regulation violated (see http://www.wi.net/flag.html for a list of points to consider). The bottom line is that laws and regulations about the flag of the United States of America are broken every day and nothing is done about it. So, instead of writing a new law that won't be followed either, how about just enforcing the law we have, first? Since that won't be done either, how about Congress moves on to something that will actually make a difference, before they go on vacation again?

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count0 10:38 PM on 23 Jun 2005

I finally have found a political topic that we both agree on, but for differing reasons. I think that the bill is a bad idea because it will just afford for a round of high profile antiamerican leftist protest. The republicans are just handing this one over. The battle is already lost on this one and the republicans are the ones who have lost their teeth. It is stuff like this that make me think that republicans and democrats are in on the slow march to European social_ism together. Just playing good cop bad cop, one step up and two back.

More government is ALWAYS a bad thing. It is NEVER a good thing.

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Bruce Perry 8:58 AM on 24 Jun 2005

But isn't burning also the approved method of flag disposal? Many Scout troops and veterans groups accept worn-out flags for proper disposal and this is what they do with them. Does this bill have an exception for these groups or does whoever enforces this law have to judge intent?

Seems to me that this is just more of the usual political grandstanding on this issue.

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Nate Finch 1:59 PM on 24 Jun 2005

Volker - I agree completely. There are plenty of dumbass laws out there... which is why I'm fighting any new ones that are in the process of getting made.

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AndyB 7:12 PM on 27 Jun 2005

I'm just really baffled.

I always assumed that 'patriotic' was fairly obviously a perjorative term that anyone who considered themselves an intelligent, reflective human being would be particularly comfortable with.

Nations don't exist, folks. They are a fiction, a social construction. Granfalloons. Humanity exists and that we do share. Nations, tribes, gangs and social clubs are not a sensible basis for a shared identity. Hell. I've generally got more in common with that slice of the planet that likes the same albums as me than I have with those I share a nation with.

When are we planning to grow out of this? I'm off to burn some flags.

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Sylvain Galineau 3:28 PM on 29 Jun 2005

Well, I must say I'm not sure I care if they ban it because the U.S. Code already has a built-in loophole. In section 176.k :

" (k) The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning."

Bottom line : used an old battered one. That way, not only do you have your protest stunt but you're doing the dignified thing too.

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DMK 11:45 PM on 22 Jan 2009

You liberals amaze me. The United States flag is only a symbol and the burning of it is free speech and should be protected. Burning the flag never hurts anyone. You say that out of one side of your mouth, but let someone fly the Confederate Battle Flag, and suddenly it does great harm. It is a racist symbol, it has nothing to do with tradition or history, it is always meant to be racist and as such it should be outlawed.

So which is it free speech or not. I leave this for you to determine. Although I doubt you will be able to recognize your own hypocrisy.

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