Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Our Nero-ian Senate - Fiddling While Flags Burn

Let's talk about flag burning.

I really wish we didn't have to - there are about eight zillion things that qualify as "more important" in the grand scheme of things. But apparently, we do have to talk about it, because the U.S. Senate is hypothetically one vote short of banning flag burning:

Supporters of a constitutional amendment that would give Congress the power to outlaw flag burning have their best chance ever to win Senate approval later this month....The Senate is slated to try again in the next two weeks -- right after Flag Day today and just in time for July 4 -- and the margin is expected to be razor-thin.

Based on public pledges and prior votes on the issue, 34 senators are expected to oppose the amendment and 66 -- mostly Republicans -- are expected to back it. That would put the amendment within one vote of winning the two-thirds majority of senators, if all 100 participate....

The proposal would add a sentence to the Constitution: "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States."

First thing's first: This isn't a flag burning amendment. It's a flag "desecration" amendment.

There's a significant difference between the physical act of burning a flag, and the far more vaguely-stated physical desecration of said-flag. What constitutes desecration? Burning it, assumedly. But what about writing on it? Or wearing it as a ridiculous poncho?

God, Kid Rock. You're a RAWK STAR, for pete's sake. Get a decent wardrobe.

Brief fashion disgression aside, the point's a serious and valid one. What counts as desecration? Who decides? Congress, apparently.

Secondly, but even more importantly, is there a simpler, purer expression of political disagreement than the "desecration" of your nation's flag?* And is the elimination of that expression a significant curtailment of your First Amendment rights?**

*Why, no. No, there isn't.

**Why yes, yes it is.

Lastly, is this how we want to be spending our (apparently never-ending supply of) money? On debating and passing bills that arguably do absolutely jack - with a side order of shit - for the people of this country? Who does this bill help? Whose life does it better? Who will wake up, the morning after this bill is passed, and realize a significant difference in the way their life is lived?

No one, as far as i can tell. Sure, blowhards like Debbie Schlussel may feel a certain, glowing, pride that their fellow Americans can no longer express their dissent through a symbolic gesture, but isn't that sort of an...insane reason to alter the Constitution?

With luck, this amendment, if passed, will pass into the sort of unused obscurity shared by U.S. Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 8(d):

The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.

Tell that to the NASCAR crowd. As I type this, I'm wearing a U.S. Soccer hat which clearly takes liberties with the flag. I expect the FBI will be breaking my door down any minute. Heh.

Hey...who're you?!

Let go! OWWWW! Why're you...HEY! My HAT! Give it back!

(all links and materials compliments of which, to no one's surprise, heartily supports the flag "burning" amendment. Because too much freedom makes the peanut gallery nervous.)


At 11:36 AM, Blogger Scott Roche said...

Your post instigated an excellnt discussion between my wife and I. She's the sort that says if you burn a flag then you must hate our country so you should just move. I think she may be changing her mind, though she still thinks flag burning is a bad idea.

At 3:15 PM, Blogger Jabawacefti said...

Well, in fairness, there's a serious difference between discussing outlawing flag burning, and whether in so doing, you should leave or whether you hate the country of whose flag you burn.

I understand, from a macro perspective, why it is inherently good to allow people to burn the flag. Your wife's instincts, however, seem eminently fair. Just because someone should be allowed to do it does not mean that it's a good thing to do.

At 4:11 PM, Blogger codemorse said...

Your wife illustrates the importance of being able to burn a flag.

It evokes serious emotion. That's why you do it. If it didn't do so, it wouldn't be an effective symbol. What's the point of burning something/altering something/making a point when no one pays attention? You aren't supposed to like it when someone burns a flag. And, much like free speech generally, we have to suffer through idiots using the action improperly/ineffectively because the right should exist for all.

It's just a symbol. And symbols (as I've mentioned before, I think) are only as good as the meanings behind them.

Burning the White House means that you hate our country. Burning the flag means that you're trying to make a point.

At 4:14 PM, Blogger codemorse said...

Of course, burning the flag may also mean that you hate our country.

Again, that's the price we pay for expressing open discontent with our government.

At 8:59 AM, Blogger Scott Roche said...

She made this point:
"Just because someone should be allowed to do it does not mean that it's a good thing to do."
as well and it's a fair point.

And why would burning the White House (assuming that no one got hurt) be any different? I know it's one of a kind. I guess it would be more akin to burning say one particular histroically important flag, but it's still a symbol arguably.

At 3:36 PM, Blogger codemorse said...

No, it's a house where the President lives. Burning it means trying to actively hurt the hundreds of people who work inside it everyday, not to mention the President.

With all due respect to your wife, saying that "Just because someone should be allowed to do it does not mean that it's a good thing to do" is all well and good, but it's sort of a pointless distinction.

Would it have been a "good" thing if the students in Tienamen (sp) square had burned their country's flag? What does "good" even mean in the context of burning the flag?

What is "better?" Protecting a country's flag from being burned? Or resolving to have a government that puts the feelings of its people over the welfare of a mass-manufactured (and, increasingly, Made In China) strip of cloth that we choose to hang from our rear car windows?

Is it "bad" to burn a flag, but "good" to plaster it over your car? Is it respectful to turn the flag into fashion?

And most importantly, why does your wife's conception of "good" come into play at all? How does the burning of a flag affect her?

At 4:54 PM, Blogger Scott Roche said...

Well if you intend it as an expression of something then your intention is to affect someone, no?

I suppose the word she used was actually beneficial and not good. Just because somehting is allowed does not automatically make it beneficial.

And if all it is is a strip of cloth then it has no meaning to anyone. We both know that it's more than that. That's like saying a cross is "just two wooden beams". If I burn that on a street in front of a black man's yard is that okay? It's just an expression of how I feel.

I'm not against being able to burn a flag (or a cross I suppose) as long as in doing so you aren't endangering someone, participating in a threatening act, or violating someone elses rights. It's all about intent. Like burning down the whitehouse.

Say your intent is to burn it down without anyone inside (like V blowing up the empty building at teh beginning of VfV). That would be a mighty powerful act of comunication. Difference being that doing that you are destroying federal property (I'm guessing) whereas burning a flag is destroying your own property (provided you burn your flag).

"Is it "bad" to burn a flag, but "good" to plaster it over your car? Is it respectful to turn the flag into fashion?"

See the answer to these questions is also about what you're trying to do. If you are wearing a shirt with a flag on it (I have one) then I'd have no problem with that. If you have on flag patterned underwear? For me that's a problem, but I wouldn't stop you from doing it.

At 5:06 PM, Blogger codemorse said...

If you are wearing a shirt with a flag on it (I have one) then I'd have no problem with that. If you have on flag patterned underwear? For me that's a problem, but I wouldn't stop you from doing it.

That's my problem right there, in a nutshell. Some people might want to stop me from doing it (caveat: own no flag-patterned boxers), and given our potential willingness to keep people from burning it, what's to keep Congress from deciding that wearing them is "desecration?"

Should something that you've purchased and is of no physical harm to another be regulated in a manner that directly effects free speech?

And if it should, what sorts of things shouldn't be regulated?

There is a monumental difference to me between affecting someone physically and emotionally. Regulating behavior based upon how that behavior makes some of the country feel seems inherently silly and Anti-American to me.

Like Prohibition. Or, say...the Gay Marriage Amendment.


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