The latest government attempt to take away first amendment freedoms. The proposed amendment would make it illegal to desecrate the flag of the United States.

This would damage freedom of religion, as desecration is a religious term, applied only to sacred objects. It would also take awar freedom of speech, as flag burning is currently a protected form of speech.

They seem to think that the symbol of freedom is more important than freedom itself.

And as a comment on what Jet-Poop wrote down there... you've got the right idea. Take out a color ad in a national newspaper with a full-page image of an American Flag - nobody could then throw it in the trash, set it on the floor, etc. You could get thousands of people on violating the law right there...

If this ever passes, here are some things you can use to both get around the law and point up how stupid the whole thing is.

1. Play with the definition of "flag". If it's a piece of cloth, burn a paper flag. Or burn a picture of a flag. Or burn a red, white, and blue T-shirt. Burn a Texas flag or a Confederate flag -- same colors, and certain people would probably freak out just as hard.

2. Play with the definition of "American flag". Try burning a flag with seven stripes and 158 stars. Or burn a purple, yellow, and green American flag. Or a triangular one.

3. If the amendment only outlaws burning, find other ways to desecrate the flag. Rub it in the dirt. Run over it with your car. Piss on it. Sew it to the seat of your pants and eat a plate of beans.

4. If the amendment bans any desecration of the flag, start turning in anyone who doesn't treat the flag with proper respect. Turn in businessmen who use American flags in advertisements. Turn in people who fly the flag until it's reduced to a frayed, tattered rag. Turn in junior high kids who don't fold the flag properly. Hell, turn in people for imaginary flag desecration--force the Justice Department to investigate several hundred false reports of desecration when they should be investigating real crimes.

5. Turn in the Boy Scouts and the American Legion when they destroy flags by burning them. Why should they have all the fun?

6. Burn a copy of the U.S. Constitution. Hey, there ain't no amendments banning that. It's probably just a misdemeanor, too.

7. Visit Canada or Mexico. They won't care if you burn an American flag. Film it and send it to your Congressman. Laugh at him loudly and in public.

Provided that the flag burner is the owner of the flag, and provided that the flag burner does not, say, throw the burning flag into a building or onto a homeless person, I don't see why there should be anything illegal about sparking up Ol' Glory.

What this leads to, however, are problems about where such activities are appropriate and how the same theories can be applied to other objects. For instance, one would have to assume that any place an American flag could be burned should also be open to people who want to burn something like a cross.

I can see some groups not liking that.

As far as I'm concerned, people should be able to burn whatever they want on their own property (as long as it's small-scale enough not to poison the neighbors or destroy surrounding property, and as long as they don't try to collect insurance off it). This includes flags, crosses, pictures of Bill Clinton, pictures of Jesus Christ, Windows 2000 boxes, whatever.

I'm not sure what the regulations are for burning things on public property and government property. But I think that anywhere a comparably sized piece of cloth is legal to burn, a flag should be considered open season.

It's all about protecting free speech, from Buddhist monks to radical university activists to the KKK. If you don't like what someone is saying or how they choose to express it, tough shit. As long as they aren't committing an actual crime (such as threatening people), people have the right to be as stupid, or, in the case of flag burning, unoriginal as they want to be.

Let's face it: people have died for the flag and what it stands for. Imagine how you would feel if your buddy died in 'Nam and was laid to rest in a coffin covered with that flag -- and then you see someone burning it. I think folks should absolutely have the right to exercise their speech in that manner, but think twice before you decide that it's the proper way to protest your school's fetal pig dissection.

"You can't eat a flag" - John Hume

In other words, symbols can be important, but they should never be considered more important than the people, freedoms and ideas they represent.

My favorite quote concerning this, and one of my personal favorite quotes of all time was said in The American President by Michael Douglas' character:

"You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil who is standing center stage advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. The symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free."

I don't think this node can be complete without Resolution 142 which was entered into consideration by the House of Representatives on June 23rd, 1999 during the first session of the 106th Congress. The following is also available online at The Thomas Server, thomas.loc.gov, courtesy of the Library of Congress. God Bless the Internet!

...

Mr. Stearns submitted the following concurrent resolution; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary

CONCURRENT RESOLUTION

Expressing the sense of the Congress that the Congress should have the power to prohibit the desecration of the flag of the United States.

Whereas from Valley Forge to Yugoslavia, in every battlefield where ever American values have been attacked and American lives sacrificed, the flag of the United States has been the shining, indomitable, eternal spirit of American liberty in visual form; Whereas to desecrate such a symbol is to desecrate the memory of the thousands of Americans who have sacrificed their lives to keep that banner flying, intact, and inviolate; and Whereas since Americans have fought and died to defend the flag of the United States, any act of desecration of the flag is profoundly offensive to Americans: Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That it is the sense of the Congress that--

(1) the reasoning of the opinion of the United States Supreme Court leading to the decision in Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989), was flawed;

(2) as a symbol of our Nation, the flag of the United States is unique and deserves to be treated with respect of the highest order; and

(3) the Congress should have the power to prohibit the desecration of the flag of the United States.

...

Now please allow me to summarize the above in layman's terms for those of you who can't understand the legalese doubletalk of the congress. And believe me I understand. It's worse than ebonics. Here's a suitable translation.

CONCURRENT RESOLUTION
Translation: SOMETHIN WE THUNK UP WHILE DRUNK

Expressing the sense of the Congress that the Congress should have the power to prohibit the desecration of the flag of the United States.
Translation: We jackasses that you idiots voted to represent you feel we should be able to tell you not to do something. Again.

Whereas from Valley Forge to Yugoslavia, in every battlefield where ever American values have been attacked and American lives sacrificed, the flag of the United States has been the shining, indomitable, eternal spirit of American liberty in visual form;
Translation: Every time we jackasses in power fuck up and consequently order your sons and brothers and fathers into harm's way to clean up the mess we made, that silly thing hanging off a stick and waving in the breeze has been there. We don't know why. But we're afraid that if you idiots figure out you have the God-given right to burn that damn thing, you might start setting some of us on fire and we don't want that.

Whereas to desecrate such a symbol is to desecrate the memory of the thousands of Americans who have sacrificed their lives to keep that banner flying, intact, and inviolate;
Translation: Look stupid. At the drop of a hat we could order the national guard to barge into your house and take all your bootlegs of cable television programs and Moesha reruns. So don't fuck with us. You ain't burning no flags and that's final. Don't make us take back the second amendment while we're at it!

and Whereas since Americans have fought and died to defend the flag of the United States, any act of desecration of the flag is profoundly offensive to Americans:
Translation: And we're still pissed off at George Carlin too!

Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That it is the sense of the Congress that--
Translation: However we'll still let you take an American flag and turn it into something like a bathing suit or a coffee mug, so long as we can buy stock in your company when it IPO's.

I find number one above particularly interesting. It means the House of Representatives wants to take on the Supreme Court about this issue. Well. At least Mister Stearns wants to take them on. I think right now they got bigger fish to fry than this right now. Actually we should be striving for the opposite. It should not only be accepted behavior for an american to burn his own flag in protest, but it should be required ritual behavior under various conditions. Like the 21 gun salute it should be a rite that is performed regularly. When an AMERICAN burns the american flag, it is not desecration. It is the exercising of our inalienable rights. Now, when some guy in Baghdad burns our flag, of course you know this means war. Even if the congress successfully passed this, and got a president to sign it, any such attempts will hit the Supreme Court as soon as the ACLU can get it in there. This is an attempt on the part of Stearns and others to get re-elected. It's designed to look good and be showy, but it's in blatant disregard for the Constitution and will be overturned by the judicial branch. This is why our founding fathers put the checks and balances into our three branch political system. So idiots like Mister Cliff Stearns of Florida don't make a mistake we'd all soon regret.

Don't Tread On Me.

Writing in today's issue of the right wing newspaper the Daily Telegraph, left wing playwright David Hare draws attention to the case of 59-year-old Lindis Percy, a grandmother who was convicted of disorderly behaviour and fined £200. Her crime? To go to RAF Feltwell - actually a US deep-and-near-space tracking station - hold up an American flag with the additional legend 'Stop Star Wars', drop the same, and stand on it. American gate guards testified that they had been offended and brought close to tears by the sight of, er, a middle-aged lady standing on a bit of cloth.

'It was hard ... to take this new offence of Making Grown Americans Weep seriously.' - David Hare

Under section 10 of the Human Rights Act, every citizen has the right to freedom of speech, expression and assembly. Clearly upsetting Americans is not covered here.

David Hare reports, in passing, that the US Supreme Court recently ruled that the Old Glory can in fact be defaced freely in the USA. I'd be grateful if someone can furnish details of this ruling. In any case, it doesn't protect British citizens.
Once again, the flag burning amendment is being debated in the American House of Representatives. This is a complete waste of time for a number of reasons.

  1. There are more important bills that could be debated. Healthcare, taxes, handguns, etc. Regardless of what position is taken regarding these issues, it is obvious that the issues' importance is greater that whether or not it is ok to burn a flag.
  2. Who would benefit from a flag burning amendment? The only effect the amendment would have would be to turn protesters into criminals. No one would gain from its passage.
  3. The US Supreme Court would rule the new amendment to be self-contradictory. Although only laws which are not part of the Constitution can be ruled unconstitutional, no amendment may ever take presidence over the Bill of Rights. Thus, it becomes obvious that the proposed flag burning amendment would contradict freedom of speech. So, even if the proposed amendment is ratified by the 38 states needed, it would still be overturned.

With that said, I see no need to burn the flag. Most of the time, it is not truly done as protest against the US, rather it is a protest against actions or positions of individuals working for the government. Burn pictures of the individuals, or burn large signs with their names or likenesses. It can be argued that the flag burning attracts more attention, but it typically will anger many who might otherwise agree with the protester's viewpoint.


Just a slight correction is needed. I have been informed (and have researched to verify that it is correct) that the Bill of Rights can, theoretically, be changed. This weakens my third point above, but there could still be a contradiction between the flag burning amendment and the freedom of speech amendment.


OK, last update (hopefully). Again, it has further been pointed out that there really would be no contradiction. The flag burning ammendment would make burning the flag unconstitutional, while other forms of free speech would still be protected. However, at this date (June 11, 2005) there is no longer any talk about a flag burning ammendment; the new nonsense is talk of an Anti-Gay Marriage Ammendment.

The funny, but not ha-ha funny, thing is, enacting an amendment protecting the flag would not only trample the right to freedom of expression, it would also do violence to the (long established, not exactly literal, much discussed, somewhat controversial, Supreme Court affirmed) wall of separation between church and state.

I'm out of my goddamned mind? Maybe not. Dig on this, the text of the proposed amendment, S. J. Res. 7:

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States authorizing Congress to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.

Now, go ahead and click on desecrate. Go on! And then come back here.

Done? Okay. Part of Webster 1913's definition is "To divest of a sacred character . . . to violate the sanctity of . . ." Arguably, the government of the United States is supposed to be a secular government. That is, not overly entangled in religion. As a result, nothing should be "sacred" to the government, not even Old Glory.

Therefore, by enacting an amendment that allows Congress "to prohibit the physical desecration" of the flag would allow that the flag is something sacred. You can't desecrate a non-sacred thing, after all. If the flag is sacred, then the church-state separation is destroyed. Ergo, the flag burning amendment is a very Bad Thing.

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