Flag Burning Amendment

I have said before that Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is probably one of the most important books a person can and should read. While Orwell’s 1984 may be more accurate I think Bradbury leaves us with a true glimmer of hope, which Orwell does not. Both books should be read by every member of every society and if you do read 1984, when you get to the end, take a piece of paper and cover the last paragraph, especially the last sentence of the book. Don’t let yourself read that until the very end. It gave me cold goosebumps and nightmares. Fahrenheit 451 did not do that, exactly, but made a vivid, lasting impression on me when I first read it when I was 15 and the several times I’ve read it since.
If you are not familiar with Bradbury’s story, it is set in a future time surprisingly like our own in a country very much like ours. The Protagonist, Guy Montag, is a fireman of the time whose job is not to put fires out, but to start them. Houses are all fireproof but books have been outlawed completely. If you are found to own a book, your books and house are all burned and you are imprisoned. The title comes from the temperature at which book paper combusts. Written in the early 50’s, Bradbury describes a society where people never go anywhere without their “ear-bud” radios plugged into their ears. They watch TV on giant, wall-sized screens and never do anything else.
Books came to be outlawed by a process remarkably similar to the “Political Correctness” we see today. Some group found a certain book to be offensive and protested its printing, held burnings and got it banned from libraries. Another group found a different book offensive. Some found the Bible offensive, others found other writings offensive as all the while the people became less and less involved with the government and how it was run and more and more involved in personal entertainment. They eventually became so complacent and believed the propaganda spewed into their ear-buds and out of their TVs that it was not difficult for the government to pass laws, at first outlawing only certain books nobody ever really cared about or read anyways. The people continued feeding their minds on the pap from the carefully crafted, inoffensive TV shows while the government banned more and more books until finally all books were against the law.
It all started out with people being made to believe they could not say whatever they wanted for fear of offending someone or some group while at the same time others became so thin-skinned that they took everything as a personal insult and provocation. The right not to be offended took the place of the right to free speech.
(Obviously, there are some books that may belong on public or private library shelves that are not appropriate for a middle-school library and you can read my piece on book banning to learn how to deal with that and when.)
Here in the United States we place a very high value on our Freedom of Speech. It was the first one of ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution that we refer to as “The Bill of Rights.” “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This has been interpreted to include a large number of things I don’t know that the founders intended or could even have imagined, but any American citizen has the right to say whatever they want about whatever they want without fear of retaliation. Our law even protects works of art as well as political speech and prohibits the government from establishing a state religion while also prohibiting the government from interfering with any religion. It is a great law, but the Supreme Court has given it some few limits. For instance, you cannot go into a crowded theater and yell “fire!” when there is no fire. We are protected from libel and slander as well.
So, if you want to make a statement by burning the very representation of your country that fosters this right, well, okay. Personally I don’t understand it and you will never get me to acknowledge your ideas by doing it. It is the type of thing the REVEREND Fred Phelps’ followers do. You can say what you want and do what you want because we are free; I just hope you also have the poor judgment to do it at a V.F.W. July 4th celebration because I think that if you are one of these ignorant, inarticulate, irreverent fools who believe burning the flag makes some sort of statement, you would deserve what you got.
I don’t know if protestors even use this anymore. I think nowadays it’s flag-waving that everyone does. (You can ask Carter about living in Washington State where protestors drive their cars sporting their yellow ribbons to protests where they spit on returning soldiers and scream vitriolic epithets at them.) Anti-war hippie protestors of the 60’s and 70’s that used to burn the flag appear to have learned that most people, regardless of which side of the aisle they are on, don’t have any respect for them when they do this. Besides, it has been established that this is a legal form of free speech which kind of takes the edge off it. It used to be a deeply shocking and dangerous form of expression, but now the people they are protesting just say, “Well, you have the right to say what you want.” So I don’t know how much this even actually goes on any more, if at all. I did read about a neighborhood in New York that had 8 homes’ flags and poles burnt, one being the flag of their fallen Marine son, but this sort of thing is already covered in vandalism and arson laws and is not about free speech.
Aside from the fact that we value our freedom of speech so highly in this country there are several valid, practical questions to consider as well, a few of which my liberal blog-buddy Jerry brought up a while ago. If it’s against the law to burn the flag, does that include any and all flags? The paper one the newspaper prints every year? A photo of the flag? A 3×5 cotton flag? A confederate flag? A Christian flag? A Union Jack? The flags of other nations? A photo of someone burning the flag? What is the purpose and intent? To protect us from the one irreverent (and usually irrelevant) fool that feels the need to express himself this way? What if someone wants to hold an anti-religion rally and burns a Bible? Or a Koran? None of these things are things I would do, nor would most right-thinking people who are interested in communicating their beliefs and actual debate. It’s like name-calling, you stinky poop-head.
Besides, shouldn’t you include the guy’s house I see every day that has a filthy, faded U.S. flag and tattered POW flag that you can barely read the words on? Isn’t that equally disrespectful and disgraceful, if not more so? I don’t think the flag that flew over Fort Sumter is in as rough condition. There are way too many people who, in what I desperately hope is patriotic fervor, fly dilapidated, tattered pieces of cloth that excuse themselves as flags. Those little flags that you attached to your car on 9/12/01 that are just little strips of cloth (or plastic) need to be changed now, sir. What started out as a national solidarity under the proudest flag that’s ever flown over the greatest country in the world, has turned into something of an embarrassment. I think the real problem is that many people do not really know they are doing something wrong. The Boy Scouts have put together a nice little easy-to-read guide for proper flag handling and theVFW has put together a little more in-depth flag etiquette and history, including a little more detailed instruction on disposing of a flag that is no longer serviceable.
To me this was a poorly conceived electioneering device and the elected officials from both sides ought to be ashamed of themselves. Come on, you guys; do some real work for a change.
Remember, the good book says, “Let despots remember the day/When our fathers with mighty endeavor/Proclaimed as they marched to the fray/That by their might and by their right/It waves forever.” Or was that Sousa?

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