I’ve gone on before about why any Constitutional Amendment to ban burning or otherwise desecrating the flag of the United States of America would be cracked the very second it was passed, but apparently asking the members of the House of Representatives to read is too much to hope for. So for the members of Senate, who vote on the proposed Amendment soon, and the members of the 50 state legislatures here in the US, allow me to offer this visual primer on How to Crack the Flag Burning Amendment.
First, for reference, the American Flag:
If you want to get fiddly about it, here are the actual government specs for the flag, dictating what the standard dimensions of the flag would be, down to the Pantone colors used in the flag. As the proposed Amendment allows Congress and the states to prohibit desecration of the US Flag, let us assume — for the sake of argument — that the flag is defined by these standard dimensions. Got it? Fine. Here we go:
An American Flag? Hardly. It has only 49 stars! There’s a circle where a star should be. Certainly an American Flag had 49 stars, but it didn’t look like this (it looked like this).The true 49-star flag would likely be covered by the Amendment, but this one, not so much. Use it for kindling!
Three cheers for the Red, White and Gray? I think not — use this one to swaddle a horse. Then feed that horse lots of grain.
The 13 red and white stripes represent the original 13 colonies of the United States — but what’s this? One of the stripes has gone flaming pink! Clearly it’s the stripe for Massachusetts. But whichever former colony it represents, we don’t salute the pink, white and blue. Use this one to mop up vomit after a Socialist Party USA beer bash!
Green, white and orange. Man, that’s not even trying. Use it as a dropcloth for that goat slaughter you have planned.
The 48-star flag flew over America for nearly 50 years, the longest reign of any US flag. But this isn’t that flag. This is just some cheap and tawdry knockoff of the American flag suitable for, oh, let’s say, being torn into strips and used as emergency feminine protection.
Red, white and blue? Check. 13 stripes? Check. 50 stars? Check. Well, then it must be an Americ– hey. Wait a minute. Isn’t that the Hamburgler in the bottom right corner? I may not know much, but I do know that the great Flag of the United States of America does not feature a second-tier corporate mascot, especially one with acknowledged — indeed, celebrated — criminal tendencies. This is not the American flag. Let’s soak it in gasoline and roast weenies!
Now, aside from not being the flag of the United States of America, what else do these last six objects have in common? Well, what they have in common is that each and every one of them would fail what I like to call the “VFW Test,” which is conducted like so:
1. Go to your local VFW hall on the 4th of July.
2. Burn the flag-like object in the parking lot.
3. See if you don’t get your ass kicked.
Do you think a mob of angry veterans won’t kick your ass for burning the flag, just because one of the stars is a circle, or one of the stripes is pink, or you’ve embossed the Hamburgler into the corner? As if. You’ll get a stomping, all right, because it looks like an American flag, even if it is not, and burning it feels like you’re burning the American flag, even if you’re not.
And of course, that’s the point: by not burning the Flag of the United States but rather something excruciatingly close to it, you’re not violating a Constitutional Amendment, but engaging in free speech, which is of course covered by the First Amendment. You’re getting all the impact of burning the US flag, with none of the Constitutional risk (although you may still get your ass kicked by angry veterans). You’ve cracked the flag-burning Amendment.
Alternately, one could simply dispose of a worn and soiled American Flag in the acknowledged respectful and non-desecrating manner of burning it (see U.S. Flag Code, Section 8, subsection (k)), and, while respectfully burning that worn and soiled flag, in a public place, simultaneously and independently engage in political speech.
“Protecting” the flag with a Constitutional Amendment won’t solve the not-at-all pressing problem of people burning flags for political protest. They’ll still do it. They’ll simply do it in ways that will now additionally mock the stupidity of those who love the symbol of American freedoms more than they love actual American freedoms. And no matter how expansively Congress defines “the American Flag” there will always be something that is not the flag, but is close enough in its shape and structure to feel just like the flag. And there will be the people who will use that not-quite-flag-like object to protest.
And you know what? Good for them. They’re being better Americans than those who would pass a flag-burning Amendment. Real Americans don’t take away the freedoms of other Americans.