Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Much Ado About a Non-Problem

According to Think Progress, the U.S. Senate needs one more vote to pass a constitutional amendment criminalizing desecration of the U.S. flag. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson developed the Bill of Rights. They did not feel the need for such language. No one said a word about the need for this law until the Civil War:

1862 Gen. Benjamin Butler, military governor of New Orleans, issues a decree prohibiting the display of any symbol representing an authority other than the United States and demands that the American ensigns … be treated with the utmost deference and respect by all persons, under pain of severe punishment.
In the 100+ years since, almost no evidence exists to justify wasting time and money on the flag amendment. Although, there are at least three reasons to oppose the legislation:
  1. Flag burning is a non-problem: As Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT) has said, “I don’t want to amend the Constitution to solve a non-problem. People are not burning the flag.” One study found just 45 reported incidents in the over 200 years between 1777 and 1989, when the Flag Protection Act was first passed.
  2. Flag burning is protected speech: The Supreme Court has twice ruled that destruction of the flag for political purposes, although highly offensive to most Americans, is undeniably a political statement and a political expression.
  3. Amendment is vaguely worded: The amendment is “phrased in such broad and vague language” that it could could include censorship of images of the flag in works of art, advertising, or commerce. Last week, the Senate spent time debating whether “wearing a very skimpy bathing suit” decorated with the flag’s stars and stripes would constitute desecration.
The American Legion leads the fight for the Flag Amendment. Successful passage of the constitutional amendment means that for the first time in 214 years this country places a restriction on the sacrosanct Bill of Rights. It also means that the U.S. joins a select group of nations that have already done the same thing: Cuba, China, Iran, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

The Framers of the Constitution were Enlightenment Era philosophes. The Age of Reason provided the underpinnings for the colonials in the latter half of the 18th Century. Their European influences were Jean-Jacques Rousseau, René Descartes, and (above all) François-Marie Arouet -- Voltaire -- French author, humanist, rationalist, & satirist (1694 - 1778). In a February 6, 1770, letter to M. le Riche, Voltaire wote I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write. That is the true value of the First Amendment. The first because it is the most important one. Without it, nothing else really matters. It also sets the U.S. apart from every other country on the planet -- people expressing themselves without fear of persecution. It is worth fighting and dying for. Anyone desecrating the symbol of that freedom deserves pity, not jail time, and they will never understand why.

Only 45 people in more than 200 years is not enough justification for a constitutional amendment that is exactly opposite of this country's values. Members of Congress should put their energy to better use -- and there are a lot of social issues that are better uses.

Update -- Besides, it would be a shame for a federal court to find a sitting or (not soon enough) former president the first person guilty of flag desecration (could not happen to a nicer person).


At 20 June, 2006 03:14, Blogger Kankakee Voice said...

Great timing on your post! I just spent the day writing a column for the local paper - a pro/con piece. Wish I had read your post before I sent my column in, I would have stole it ;)


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