Monday, May 29, 2006

Flag Burning


I'm sorry, readers, but I took a couple of days off. (This makes a total of 5 days out of 260 days since I started posting, so I don't feel too badly.)

I did not really take two days off, either. I decided that I needed to do something that I had been back-burnerizing for quite some time now -- to go ahead and create a book-type publication of some of the things that I have written.

I have always felt uneasy about writing a book. It just feels a bit . . . arrogant . . . to think that I have something to say that is worthy of being put into a book. On the other hand, I see other works out there (e.g., the writings of Ann Coulter) and it nudges me in the direction of thinking, even if it is not as good as I would like it to be, it is better than many of the things readers can choose from.

The book that I am working on is a compilation of some of the things that I have written elsewhere, presented under four general categories: (1) moral theory, (2) moral issues, (3) political morality, and (4) morality and religion.

I thought that it would be easy. I am a chronic rewriter. I never like anything I have written more than 23 hours after I wrote it. (I am certain that some people say, "Why wait so long?"). So, it will hopefully give a better understanding of some of the ideas presented here. Heck, I have even changed my mind on a few things -- mostly because a few readers had not given up in frustration after shouting at me for years, "That . . . part . . . does . . . not . . . make . . . any . . . sense!"

New Business: Flag Burning

I have read that Senator Frist, majority leader of the Senate, has two major items on his agenda for the near future.

He wants to pass a marriage amendment -- one that says that no state may recognize a marriage or any marriage-like arrangement (e.g., civil union) between two people of the same gender.

I have expressed my view on this earlier. The campaign against gay marriage is the most recent of a long line of religious crusades -- campaigns to add misery and suffering to the lives of decent people because those causing the misery think that it is something that their all-loving God wants them to do. Furture historians will list simply add this to the list of crusades, inquisitions, witch-burnings, and religious wars.

Surprisingly, I once thought that the human race had outgrown these barbaric dispositions.

The other issue that Frist wants to get on the floor of the Senate for an up or down vote this election year is an amendment to ban flag burning.

Why would somebody want to ban flag burning?

The answer typically given is that burning the flag shows dishonor and disrespect for all of those who have fought under and defended the flag over the past 230 years.

Anybody who fights to defend a flag is an idiot. Flags are just so many square inches of colored cloth, and no batch of colored cloth is worth a man's life. Indeed, if I came across an accident where a person was bleeding to death, and the only cloth I had available for which to create a bandage was a flag, I would rip the flag apart and use it as a bandage without a moment's guilt. Because, all things considered, lives are more important than flags.

On the other hand, moral principles can be more important than either flags or lives. For all of those people who fought and died in the service of this country, I would hope that all of them were smart enough to fight and die, not for a flag, but to establish and maintain certain principles of right and wrong -- justice and injustice.

Among the rights worth fighting and dying for is the right to free speech -- a right to say things that others do not want to hear.

Why would somebody want to ban flag burning?

Because they do not like what the person who is burning the flag is saying by that action. He does not agree with that sentiment, so he wants to do harm to those who express that sentiment.

This is the antitheses of free speech.

Indeed, if this amendment gets passed, then the flag will stand for censorship rather than freedom. It will stand for the use of government authority to punish those who say things that others do not want to hear. The flag will become a symbol of opposition to the principles that most of those who fought under it were seeking to defend -- the right of people to express unfavorable opinions without being punished for it.

Ironically, I suspect that there is no act that will bring about more flag burning than passing a constitutional amendment making it a crime to burn the flag. If such an amendment is passed, then we will see the nation divided into two camps. There will be one camp that loves the flag but hate what it stands for -- who will punish those who burn the flag and cheer those who would ban free speech. They will be pitted against a group who loves what the flag stands for more than the flag -- who will burn the flag because they love freedom.

In fact, any Senator or Representative who votes for this amendment, votes to destroy what those who fought under that flag (particularly in the years in which this country was founded) fought to protect.


Anonymous said...

Hi. I think you meant to say lives are more important than flags. Anyway, I liked the post.

Hume's Ghost said...

Here's what I said last year when Congress tried to pass this:

"What this amendment does is protect the flag at the expence of what it represents: democratic freedom. It is a blasphemy law, similar to laws in Pakistan where burning a Koran is punishable by death, differing only by degrees but not in kind."

Its a violation, at least in principle, of the Establishment clause, because it turns the flag into a sacred idol. Patriotism is not the legislation of orthodoxy.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Thanks. Now fixed. (So, you wanna edit my book for me?)

Hume's Ghost said...

Oh yeah, I also said this

"Flag burning does not threaten our freedom, but blasphemy laws do."

Anonymous said...

For the programmers out there Steven Den Beste came up with a nice analogy a while back: the flag is nothing more than an instantiation of a class. You could eradicate every car on the planet but the idea of a car would live on. Likewise, you could burn every American flag out there but the idea of America would survive. It's utterly harmless - flag burners are either practicing protected expression or displaying their impotence (or both).

Anonymous said...

Just so you know, I would buy your book. Often I disagree with you (of course often I agree as well) but your posts are always rational and well thought out.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

One thing about flag burning is that, if it were not effective speech, there would be no reason to ban it.

Look at the reasons people want to ban flag burning. They all focus on what flag burning says. The very reason for the amendment is to prohibit people from having an effective tool for saying certain things they may want to say.

All language is symbolic. Whether it is letters on a monitor, a map, or giving somebody the finger, we communicate through symbols. Burning a flag is a very expressive symbol. Prohibiting people from using it is an example of prohibiting communication.