Here We Go Again
“WASHINGTON (AP) – In what Democrats called an annual GOP rite of spring, the Republican-controlled House on Tuesday passed an amendment to the Constitution to criminalize flag burning for the fifth time in eight years.
The one-line change to the Constitution – “The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States” – was approved by a 300-125 vote as a pair of holidays approach – Flag Day on June 14 and Independence Day in July.” — “House Approves Ban on Burning U.S. Flag,” Associated Press, 6/4/2003
If this shows anything it’s the fact that a large swath of our legislators are perfectly happy to chuck out the first amendment if they think they can get a vote out of it. And each time they do, it’s worth re-reading a newspaper column I wrote on the matter EIGHT YEARS AGO which rather unfortunately is still as relevant today as it was then. Rather than make you hunt through the archives to find it, I’ll reprint it here. Enjoy.
“I Can’t Believe It’s Not The American Flag!”: How to Defeat the Flag-Desecration Amendment.
The hideous, bloated mass of cane toads that we endearingly call the 104th House of Representatives has gone and done it again: they’ve voted to amend the Constitution of the United States in places it needs no amending. This time it’s a “flag-burning” amendment, a proposal that reads in its entirety “The Congress and the States shall have the power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.”
In one swipe, this proposed amendment guts the entire purpose of the First Amendment (to provide for free expression of ideas, no matter how unpopular), and alters the symbolic content of the American flag from a proud ensign of freedom and liberty to a suspect banner whose supposed protection flies against everything it had previously represented. In short, the flag will change from something well worth cherishing to something well worth burning. This is in character for the House, which is apparently incapable of reading the Constitution of the United States without moving its collective lips.
My first impulse, of course, was to go out and do a little flag toasting myself. But I figure every other excitable boy and girl in this great land of ours is thinking the same thing. Besides, if the Senate loses its bladder control, and the States do likewise, it’s entirely possible I’d go to the slammer. And while being a political prisoner in the previously politically free United States has an appeal, jail itself is a bummer. I’d be inside, where large, tattooed fellows with bad teeth would be calling me “girlfriend”, while the idiots who passed the amendment would be roaming around freely, thinking up of new ways to chop the Constitution into a fine pate. Which is the exact opposite of the way it should be.
No, the best way to fight this amendment is to undermine it from the word Go, to prove (without having to be incarcerated) how stupid and pointless this thing would be. So right here and now I promise: the day the 38th state legislature passes this amendment into law, I go into business for myself. Making what? Flags, of course.
What kind of flags? Well, I’ll tell you. The flag I have in mind has 13 stripes, alternating red and white. In the top left hand corner, I figure I’d put a blue rectangle, and fill it with white, five-pointed stars, in alternating rows of five and six, numbering, oh, about 50 or so. But where that last star would go, maybe I’d put a circle instead, or a square, or a pentagon, seeing that’s it’s five sided and all. It’d be 99% the Flag of United States of America, and 1% filler.
It would look like that American flag, it would feel like an American flag, and if I ran it up a flagpole, someone would probably salute it like an American flag. And why not? It’s close enough in form and content to evoke all the responses that the American flag would. I’d bet you that even from a close distance, most folks would swear that’s what it is. But it’s not. What to call it? Something catchy, like “Not The Flag of the United States,” “United States Flag Substitute,” or, my personal favorite, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not the American Flag!”
What could I do with my new flag? Why, just about anything I wanted:
Bob: Say, John, what are you doing over there?
Me: Well, Bob, I’m thinking of roasting this here entire pig on the hibachi! But first I must stoke the cooking fire!
Bob: Say, John, isn’t that the Constitutionally-protected American flag that you are laying over those red hot charcoal briquettes?
Me: It sure looks that way, doesn’t it? But see that tiny white dot over there?
Bob (squinting): Why yes I do! It’s so small!
Me: Thanks to that trivial detail, this is Not The Flag of the United States! And I can burn it at will!
Bob: Hey, that’s great! Could I use your United States Flag Substitute? I’ve got a heap of leaves in the back yard I need to take care of!
Me: Sure, Bob! It makes great kindling!
I could wear it, wax my car, swaddle small, incontinent children, potty-train my turtle, towel off after mud wrestling, turn it into a hammock, use it as bandages in a emergency situation or just shred it into fibers with a weed-whacker. Whatever I wanted. God forbid I would want to burn something in political protest, I could set it aflame outside the steps of the United States House of Representatives.
I’d be in the clear, burning my exactly-like-an-American-flag-except-for-one-small-detail flag, while all the anti-flag burning types would seethe, because they know and feel in their guts that I’m burning the American flag and getting off on a mere technicality. All their work would be for nothing, which is precisely and exactly my point.
If you want people to revere and honor the flag, you should let it stand for principles that are worth honoring and revering. Compulsory reverence is no reverence at all. Just remember, I’m standing by with my new flags. I bet you I’d sell a lot of them.