If You Don’t Support Flag-Burning, You Don’t Support THE Founding American Principle
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What’s more important for Americans to do: respect the symbols of the country or its principles? This is the question at the heart of the debate over burning the American flag (in protest), and whether or not it should be allowed. This is a stupid debate. If you truly understand what the symbol is supposed to stand for, you know flag burning might actually be one of the most patriotic things a person can do.
In summer 2016, I reported on the arrests of 17 protesters in Cleveland who were part of a planned flag-burning. I suggested that this incident was a snapshot of the larger problem with policing we have in America: Police don’t respect citizens’ rights, and other citizens don’t either.
For many Americans, when it comes to “their flag” they don’t care about trampling on their fellow Americans’ right to free expression, because they don’t believe they should have it. So, I wanted to take this opportunity to offer a somewhat radical idea to those who believe that burning the flag should be illegal or disrespects the war veterans who died while “wearing” that flag:
Even “desecrating” the American flag honors it and the principles that inspired the United States’ creation.
To understand why I’d suggest such a thing, you have to recall why the founders ultimately declared independence. It all goes back to a very important declaration made in Philadelphia in the late 18th-century. No, not the Declaration of Independence but rather the Declaration of Rights and Grievances signed by the Continental Congress in October of 1774.
This document was the result of the first meeting by this body of representatives from all the colonies (which did not exist prior) and in response to the Intolerable Acts which were “punishment” for the Boston Tea Party. This less-famous Declaration was one that declared Americans loyal subjects of his majesty King George III who were simply trying to get their divine ruler to hear their prayers.
If ol’ George had simply listened to their complaints and made a good-faith attempt to address their concerns, independence would have come much later. Instead, the King branded everyone in Congress traitors for even daring to question his government’s right to take whatever they wanted.
There are a lot of factors that led to America’s independence, but perhaps the most direct one was that American colonials had no way to redress grievances against their government, and could be imprisoned or killed for speaking out against the crown.
It is no accident that, along with the press and religion, the First Amendment protects one’s right to protest against the government. Protesting against the government is how this country was born. It’s as much in our national DNA as any other so-called American value. The history of the protection of this value and the overreach by the government to fight against it has been a shaky one, but as time goes on free expression seems to prevail.
If you dislike flag burning as protest, you should take great comfort in the accidental irony of the act. In burning the American flag in full view of the public, elected officials, and the police, the protester–no matter how much you think they “hate America”–actually celebrates one of its core principles.
If someone burned a flag and was then beset upon by jack-booted thugs, thrown into jail (or worse), then the flag would just be an empty symbol. It would be just another lie from a state that promises its people liberty but crushes them under the bloody authoritarian heels.
Burning a flag (or stomping on it, etc.) doesn’t erase its meaning. Yet, ignoring a number of the core ideals of the republic “for which it stands” not only dishonors that powerful symbol, but it dishonors all of us.
What do you think? Share your thoughts and reactions in the comments below.
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