Opinions

Flag burning must remain protected

Old Glory has forever been known as a flag stitched by Betsy Ross during the Revolutionary War and has since become a tangible symbol for the freedom of the United States. It is a strong symbol of national identity and pride that aspires to convey to the world the lofty goals of the country.

The flag is decorated with stars of the firmament and burning stripes that reflect the rays of the sun and symbolize the goals of humankind.

The flag for some is sacred and any attempt to desecrate it is seen as a sacrilege. For others, it is viewed a sign of oppression and an emblem of a conquering power.

As such, the respect that many demand for the flag is met with resistance by burning, trampling on, disfiguring or mocking its appearance. Flag burnings are events rarely covered by mainstream media. However, a flag burning happened in a mall in Iowa, and President Donald Trump denounced the act as traitorous.

The flag took on greater significance during the Civil War when the Confederacy raised its own flag. In 1897, laws were enacted against the desecration of the Union flag on two levels: one against the former Confederate States and the other against businesses that used the Grand Old Flag as an advertising logo.

Vietnam War protests in Central Park where U.S. flags were put to the torch in 1968 fathered the Federal Flag Desecration Law, a law banning any display of contempt for the flag. Swiftly on the heels of this, courts affirmed that verbal disparagement of the flag is protected speech yet stopped short on the question of flag burning.

Finally in 1984, the Supreme Court struck down all laws banning flag desecration, including flag burning, which still holds up today.

It became a weapon of choice in that, during the violent anti-Vietnam protests, Old Glory flew proudly on envelopes, reinforcing the idea of patriotism and calling to the eye the sacrifices of the bodies, limbs and minds of U.S.
servicemen.

Congress has tried many times to criminalize flag burning but their attempts have failed since 1984, respect of the Constitution remaining the biggest reason. Flag burning is a safety value of sorts: it keeps political discourse peaceful, in spite of scuffles and name-calling. Those who oppose the burning of the flag do protest, and strongly. Hosever, they, too, have a right under the freedom of speech to do so.

The U.S. government can and does resort to flag burning when it retires old flags. With the fueling of culture wars and the hardening of the alt-right and the more ideological left, one wonders if lawmakers will refrain from abridging civil liberties, especially under a president who only values them when it suits him.

Considering attacks against African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos, the working poor and women, let alone the eternal U.S. shame to Native Americans, flag burning is not likely to go away anytime soon.

U.S. history is a long saga of violence that, in the wake of the 2008 global recession and the growing class divide of the wealthy and the rest, fuels anger and hurt feelings. By guaranteeing a peaceful out through the Constitution and sidestepping imprisonment for flag burning and violent speech, the United States nurtures a revolutionary temperament, as its citizens seek the comfort of their forefathers who wrote the Constitution.

August 3, 2017

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