FLAGBURNING

THE JINGO AMENDMENT



The movement to amend the Constitution to prohibit burning the flag as a political statement was well-intentioned, but a terrible mistake. Our flag is a symbol of a special relationship between citizen and state: the voluntary loyalty of free private individuals. I was taught in Army officer training that obedience can be demanded, but respect must be earned. If a citizen may be prosecuted for disrespect toward a sacred symbol of freedom -- or any other symbol -- then his right to any dissent is eroded, and the flag is thus truly tarnished. How sad when the right to make public statements against the government is being newly granted in Russia to see that right attacked in America.

When a person wraps himself in the flag, then calls for a law against flag-burning, what is he really trying to protect, and where does it end? Would a flag-burning amendment also prohibit shredding the flag as a statement against covert government? How about throwing acid on the flag to protest toxic pollution, or staining the flag pink as a statement against pro-Soviet sentiment in America? How about such similar disrespectful acts as burning the President in effigy, or peeing on The Wall many younger veterans hold so sacred? Surely these are deplorable acts, and some of them must rankle us pretty badly, but where the rights protecting such public declarations of political opinion are absent in the world, it is there we declare oppressive government exists. It is where we see the freedoms guaranteed by our Bill of Rights to be absent that we feel most justified in sending our soldiers as defenders of democracy. If in the name of defending the flag we abandon those rights, we shall have lost the battle for freedom without even facing an enemy.

The enslaved may be compelled to obey; the free must be inspired. So let the dogs bark at the flag, and if they tear it down and destroy it, raise high another. Let us stand firm as champions of personal liberty throughout the world to defend others’ right to yell insults and cast dung at any icon of power, and when those who see this are moved to revulsion for the desecrators of symbols and respect for the defenders of rights, then our purpose will have truly prevailed.

I am a combat veteran, and I fly the Stars and Stripes on my car and in my home every day, but I certainly did not, nor would I ever fight for "The Flag". I fought, and would fight again against any enemy, to preserve those principles of responsible freedom for which I was taught the Flag stands.

As a libertarian refinement of a democratic constitution, the Bill Of Rights is a pinnacle of achievement in applied social philosophy. It is unique in that it is intended not to impose limitations on the citizen, but instead to guarantee limitations shall not be imposed. For me, the Flag is a sacred symbol of that statutory guarantee of the freedom of the private citizen.

Those who promote the No-Burn Amendment wish to add to the Constitution not another guarantee of liberty, but a punitive restriction of political expression. That is, they would make of the Flag a symbol not of civil freedom, but of enforced display of civil obedience. The movement is an attempt to rally the unthinkingly obedient around the Flag as a symbol of patriotic loyalty, where they lack committment to an issue that might mobilize an informed and politically active citizenry -- a practice sometimes called jingoism. As such, the Jingo Amendment is the antithesis of those principles for which the Flag stands.

If the freedom for which the Flag stands is sacrificed to prevent destruction of that symbol as a statement of political dissent, then is the Flag truly desecrated. If the libertarian spirit of the Bill of Rights is not kept alive in the United States of America, then that great document becomes only the hemp linen shroud in which the greatest political experiment in the history of mankind is mummified for the historians -- and perhaps the hopeful idealists -- of another day. This is our day. Let us not lose it.