Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Carbondale Southern Illinoisan editorial reprinted in Monday's Traveler is another example of promoting a bad idea to solve a non-problem. The push for a constitutional amendment to ban desecration (burning) of the American flag is, in fact, an assault on the flag. Some say this perennial election-year "issue" is just a ploy by right wing politicians to stir up the party faithful to extract more dollars from them. But let's be less cynical and assume only the sincerest and loftiest motives. It's still a bad idea.

For over two hundred years, the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, have thronged to the land of Old Glory for a better life. Today, millions around the world still yearn to breathe free, and would live here if they could. Even many of those we see chanting "Death to America!" and burning our flag on TV would move to the United States in a heartbeat if they could. Why? Freedom.

Our freedom, our liberties, are enshrined in the Bill of Rights, and are symbolized by the flag. One of those rights, freedom of speech, means that we are free not only to say things everybody likes, but to express views that are outrageous, misguided, or enfuriating to the majority. If we diminish the right of any citizen to express an opinion, even a bad opinion expressed outrageously, we diminish the freedom our flag represents. To the degree that we diminish that freedom, we desecrate the sacrifice of patriots from Bunker Hill to Gettysburg to Iwo Jima who died to defend it.

I have a homework assignment for those who want to diminish our freedom. You've probably seen TV footage of angry foreigners burning our flag to protest U.S. policy. Your assignment is to find out what would happen to those people if they burned the flags of their own nations. Make a list of the countries where citizens can be jailed, or worse, for burning the national flag. You don't even have to do any research on this do you? You already know the repressive thugocracies that would appear on the list. Do we really want to put the United States of America on such a list of shame? Let's not turn our precious flag into Gessler's hat.