Thursday, June 23, 2005

Cell Who Thief Lag

Was that anti-flag-desecration bill passed yet again? Or do I need to get rid of these old newspapers clogging my workspace? Probably both.

The anti-flag-burning amendment is the Republican equivalent of the Equal Rights Amendment, except for the equality aspect. It's been around forever (I think Betsy Ross learned how to read on its text), and every once in a while is brought out by the GOP so that they seem like patriots and make the Democrats look like America-hating jackasses when they inevitably vote it down.

Yep, this old standby of the hot-dog-and-apple-pie right* has won approval yet again by the House of Representatives. They sure love passing this thing, being that they've done it six times since 1995.

(*--I apologize to any hot dogs and apple pies I may have offended. I am a huge fan of both, as long as the hot dogs aren't dinky.)

Having grown up reading my grandfather's American Legion magazines and seeing Libyans burn American flags on CBS News, I never was one for flag burning. In fact, you could almost say there was a time when I would have supported this amendment. Shocking, I know. But an article in my high-school newspaper would change my mind as a freshman.

Ironically, the article was written by a conservative student regarding a recent flag ceremony in which students had caused a lot of ruckus. The writer was imploring that we need to show more respect, because the flag grants us all these rights and stuff. Which is, of course, incorrect--the flag doesn't grant rights, the Constitution protects them. Still, asking for decorum during a flag ceremony makes perfect sense to me.

One clinching passage in this editorial would change my view on the flag for all time. "How much freedom do you have in this country? The flag even gives you the right to burn her. That's right!" So I thought about that, and it occurred to me that the principle behind it had to be the coolest thing ever. Just imagine, a country so free that one can burn its flag in protest! It's enough to make you not want to burn the flag!

More importantly, I saw for the first time that allowing something doesn't force you to do it--a distinction that would refine my views on abortion, marijuana, gay marriage and gun rights, among countless other issues. I learned that a free country isn't limited to what Ian McGibboney chooses to do. Unfortunately, too many otherwise-educated people still don't understand the difference between legalizing something and being forced to do it.

The problem with banning flag desecration is that it opens the floodgates to more exceptions to the First Amendment. And that would set a dangerous precedent for those in power who already view the Bill of Rights as an annoying obstacle in the fight to preserve security.

As far as laws go, the flag-burning amendment would make a mockery of the Constitution. Compare the amendment's purpose with other amendments: the Bill of Rights covers speech, personal protection, state power and privacy. The subsequent amendments protect races and classes of people, shape government and lower the voting age. Pretty major stuff. And now flag burning? Are we bored?

To see footage of the Congressional debate, you'd think that this amendment was to key to preventing another 9/11 and is the only way to honor the dead. But as always, that's merely a smokescreen. Since 9/11, patriotism has risen, they say. As far as I'm concerned, that's bullshit. I can't think of a time when Americans weren't by-and-large patriotic. What we saw after 9/11 was a more blatant showcase of flagarama, well-intentioned but verging on the edge of jingoism. More and more people flew flags than ever, and uttered "God Bless America" as if it were a password. I realized that this explosion was more than sincere patriotism when flags got bigger, more adorned and more windshield-blocking. I also noticed the lack of understanding of flag protocol, as people somehow got it in their heads that flying a flag until it was faded and disintegrated was some badge of honor. But as I learned from reporting on a Boy Scout flag-retirement ceremony, there's so much more to it than that.

For one thing, there are times when a flag HAS to be burned. It's the standard retirement procedure. After being cut up along the stripes and union, the flag is then burned and/or buried. I wonder if the new amendment is going to be used against the Boy Scouts?

Too many people see the flag as they should the Constitution. But the flag is a symbol; the Constitution isn't. Watching someone burn the flag doesn't give me any rush, positive or negative, any more than most protests do. But if I saw anyone burn the Constitution, I'd be really upset. I don't doubt I'm the only one who feels the same way. So why no amendment banning the burning of the Constitution? Plug in all of the reasons that people offer for the flag amendment, and they all work. It's a winner!

Amendment XXVIII
You know this document, the one you're reading? Don't burn it!

Now that's an amendment I'd be proud to flaunt. But only if we must make exceptions to free speech. Personally, I'm fine with leaving well-enough alone.


Zachary said...

Beautiful. Well said.

Phillip said...

i've said it before, our symbol should be our flag on fire.

ethan said...

ian, i agree there does not need to be an amendment against flag burning. i believe your point on amending the constitution to change outlaw something we don't like is a very scary road to start down. i do believe that people should show a bit more respect for the flag as a symbol of what has been fought and died for, but we cannot force our will on those who disagree. the flag may not give us our freedom, but it symbolizes all we have gone through to get to where we are and the constitution stands to protect all we have gained.

Ian McGibboney said...

Ethan, I agree totally. And I've noticed that not a few conservatives feel the same way.

ethan said...

i think many educated people realize that the amendment process is for more important issues than this. thankfully the process for amending the constitution was made as difficult as it is otherwise everytime popular sentiment went one way or another on an issue we would get a new amendment and the constitution would become a joke. it is good that a simple majority cannot rewrite the rights and freedoms we have, otherwise the views of the minority would never get the chance to change minds and someday become the majority.
p.s. what was up with saying i hate poor people, my family was lower middle class only because my dad worked a full time job and tried farming and my mom worked a full time job while i was growing up.

Ian McGibboney said...

Ethan, I'm not sure if I said you hated poor people but if I did say that then I apologize. I'm certainly not one to presume someone's background.

ethan said...

it's all cool. thanks