A Mere Symbol and the Constitution


Here we go again. The politicians in Washington, the ones who consider style much more important than substance, are trying to cram the same old silly, crusty constitutional amendment down America's throat. Which amendment? Why, that moldy and ridiculous old "anti-flag burning" one. That's right, it's the same one that all thinking people had hoped died a painless and permanent death after Bush and his group tried to insert it into the national debate and were laughed into silence.

As a veteran of the Viet Nam War, winning a Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Bronze Star, I seem to have much more respect for the First Amendment to the Constitution than our current crop of politicians do. I fought for an America that stood for the freedom, the right and the duty to speak out, even when the opinion is vilified by the majority. I did not fight for the dirt that is this nation nor any of its manufactured symbols. I fought, instead for the way of life that America supposedly stands for. I fought for the freedom that our founding fathers bequeathed us and that our politicians have been busy trying to revoke ever since.

Any curtailment of the freedoms that the constitution grants the people is unacceptable. The amendment, as written, is utterly so vague as to make many lawful activities illegal. The act of printing a picture of a flag in a magazine could be the basis for prosecution if the radical right of that era decided that the presentation somehow degraded "their" flag. The act of painting a flag within a background found inappropriate by some minor political functionary could be the justification for a criminal indictment. In fact, this nonsensical act would possibly make it a chargeable offense to buy the magazine or painting or even to participate in the transportation of either. Even canceling a "Flag Stamp" on an envelope would, theoretically, make the post office employee a felon.

The founders of this country took pains to speak only to the substance of what makes a nation great. It was only after this magnificent document was created that later politicians began striving to constrain that freedom, to corrupt the essence of this near perfect document in order to include the fad of the moment. This would be the first time that our nation broke with the intent of those who created our form of government but it would only open the floodgates for all of those with petty notions they will want codified onto the Constitution.

In fact, in 1995 a poll found just 38% agreed with the need for this type of protection while 52% found it completely unnecessary. The Supreme Court has twice ruled that, while it may appear offensive to some, the burning of the flag is protected as a political expression. The court has often ruled that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because the idea is considered offensive or disagreeable.

The act of burning a flag is actually an extremely rare occurrence, happening less than 35 times since 1990. This amendment would be swatting a fly with a Buick.

Finally, this same amendment has been considered and rejected by Congress twice in this decade. Perhaps the third rejection of an unconstitutional act will kill it completely.

The argument that any such legislation is necessary for the protection of flags which are private property is fallacious, as well. There are many laws already on the books to protect private property, both at the local and federal levels. If the flag burned was purchased by the protester, the act is then merely the achievement of destroying colored cloth, not America.

This legislation is just another in the long line of distractions that our politicians trot out to keep you from thinking about the important issues facing this nation. This nation will not crumble if one of its cloth symbols is destroyed but it will end with a crashing thud if we continue the level of hatred for one another that our right wing oppressors so love to nourish. It will not rot from within if some protester, with little else to do, burns a dyed and stitched piece of fabric in protest of real or imagined affronts but it will if we continue to ignore the suffering of our children and impoverished women while providing huge riches to our wealthy. In fact, little can ever harm this nation except the stupidity of its leaders and its citizens.

The House of Representatives, which has had a tendency these last three years to enact inane legislation which only insulted the judgment of rational Americans, voted to approve this silliness. The Senate has yet to vote on it, so we still have the hope that there might be some measure of intelligence remaining in that body which will put this absurdity to rest, once and for all. It's time the politicians find something important to do or it's time for them to step aside and let the nation mature without their hindrance.

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Copyright 6/20/97