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Flag Burning Amendment Tests Our Dedication to Freedom

By David O. Dabney

Until 1989, most states and the federal government had laws against burning the American flag. It was that year that the Supreme Court ruled that such laws are contrary to our Constitution's freedom of speech tenets. Almost every year after that, Congress has introduced a bill proposing to amend the Constitution to allow the Congress to disallow "desecration" of the flag. This year's Congress is no different, except that this time, it looks as though it might make it to a vote by the states.

One of the most ironic things about this proposed amendment is that just this past week the new Chinese-controlled legislature of Hong Kong voted to outlaw, among other things, the defacement of the Chinese flag. The Chinese seem to believe, along with many of our congressional representatives apparently, that their repressive totalitarian state cannot survive the open protest of their policies via defacement or desecration of their national symbol.

Let's get one thing out of the way right now. Burning the American flag is probably the most eye-catching and offensive type of speech most Americans could conceive. Why? Because our flag is the one symbol that people in America and around the world identify as being a unique embodiment of everything contained in our Constitution, culture and society. When you burn the flag, you are denying everything that America is and everything we think we are. In the end, that is why the Chinese banned flag burning. But don't we pride ourselves on the ability to listen to and tolerate free speech that we vehemently disagree with? Isn't that one of the very moral platforms from which we criticize totalitarian governments like the Chinese? The very conservative pundits who protest the loudest about renewing China's Most Favored Nation Trading Status because of their persecution of Christians and dissidents, turn right around and pledge just as loudly to support a Constitutional amendment to ban the desecration of our flag.

The very fact that this amendment has made it past the House of Representatives is disgusting. This issue is a classic example of what depths political dialogue has sunk. The reactionary components of our society have finally succeeded in making the members of Congress believe the shallow lie that it is more important to protect a brightly colored piece of cloth than the actual ideals that the cloth represents.

Besides, what does "desecration" mean anyway? Sure, burning the flag is the easy one. What about the silly Cat in the Hat top hat and tie made with an American flag that Pat Buchanan was wearing during the campaign? What about American Flag bumper stickers that get splashed with mud and sit in the rain? What about flags on signs that suffer the same "desecration?" Where would it end?

The flag is an enduring symbol of freedom that millions have fought and died for all over the world. So why is our government trying to disgrace that very symbol by putting it above what it represents?

--David O. Dabney


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