Thou Shall Not Burn is the flavor of the day as Donald Trump’s recent tweet regarding flag burning made it’s wave of viral circulation.
Flag burning is one of the most controversial topics in various countries around the globe, both today and throughout history.
The typical argument that nationalists and patriots (or even any person with common courtesy) make is that burning a country’s flag is a direct and disrespectful gesture to all the fallen soldiers whom have “died fighting for this flag.”
What if we reverse the argument in a simple manner, by stating that the soldiers whom were “fighting for their flag” died in order to protect your right to burn said flag.
Before we move forward, let us first acknowledge that troops are not necessarily dying nor fighting to protect their flags/countries as Dr. Ron Paul points out in this amazing piece of literary analysis. Almost always (and though the young men and women believe that they are indeed fighting for freedom and service of God & country), the fact remains that troops are simply put forth as sacrificial lambs for the order of big business and political gain.
Nothing can be more evident than when looking at state-sponsored expenditures regarding defense spending (military contractors and arms dealers) vs. veteran affairs spending (mental and physical health) as over 20 military veterans commit suicide everyday.
So the political notion that “men have died for this flag” is nothing more than a tricky form of jingoism-bating, just as such slogans as “support the troops” are nothing more than an empty appeal to pathos. To truly “support the troops”, one must question every single reason they are sent off to their death, rather than blindly echoing the state’s drum for war support.
It is fair to suggest that burning a flag, is mostly an act of dissent against a government body, a foreign policy, or simply an expression of asshole-ism [SIC].
Another question is, why would those same patriotic people not stand up to our foreign policy of mass murder and blood shed (which hurts our troops, our treasury, and ruins the lives of millions globally), especially when this policy is making us less safe (even according to US military personnel)?
“Compulsory patriotism does nothing for soldiers who risk their lives — but props up those who profit from war” – Steven Salaita
But let us digress…
Just as the flag is a symbol for liberty and freedom, as well as country for many people, perhaps burning it is a gesture that truly captures to what extent that said country is free; burning a flag in Saudi Arabia (or even looking wrong at it) will most likely result in the House of Saud torching your entire family and burning your children, while in the “Land Of The Free” a bill of rights protects you from such totalitarian retaliation. After all, it is a form of free speech;
“The United States Supreme Court in Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397(1989), and reaffirmed in U.S. v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310 (1990), has ruled that due to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, it is unconstitutional for a government (whether federal, state, or municipality) to prohibit the desecration of a flag, due to its status as “symbolic speech.”
Therefor, as Michigan state representative, congressman Justin Amash pointed out:
“Nobody should burn the American flag, but our Constitution secures our right to do so. No president is allowed to burn the First Amendment.”
Conversely, president-elect Donald Trump suggested that flag burning ought to result in imprisonment or even the complete revocation of citizenship. One might wonder what would that entail however; Where would ex-pats that have been stripped of their citizenship be sent? Are they to face life imprisonment? Are they to be shipped to Guantanamo? Are they going to be put up for adoption to other countries? Would other countries have the right to purchase and own said ex-pats?
This is something that is quite odd considering Trump’s own words; “Nobody would fight harder for free speech than me.”
It also defies Trump’s pronounced admiration for late US Supreme Court Justice Scalia; Justice Scalia’s placement on flag burning is that it is indeed protected under the first amendment of the United States constitution.
Yet for all of the anti-Trump protesters and those that favored Hillary Clinton, let us not forget that she co-sponsored The Flag Protection Act of 2005, which called for a punishment of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
To be fair, the argument that flag burning is offensive can easily be made, most people can agree to that. Flag burning can also generally be considered disrespectful and unbecoming of a patriot. But not all people are respectful patriots, and not all people have nationalistic philosophies. If anything, this country was founded on dissent and individual liberty.
But simply engaging in offensive or disrespectful activities does not constitute government-sanctioned violence and coercion.
As US Supreme Court Justice Brennan eloquently put it in regards to the Johnson ruling:
“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.’ Punishing desecration of the flag dilutes the very freedom that makes this emblem so revered, and worth revering.”
Republicans ought to look at the first amendment as their iconic NRA firmly looks at the second amendment; “shall not be infringed“.
And the reason for that hardline stance, is that once any proverbial ground is lost with regards to civil liberties, it is almost always impossible to regain it back; few definitive pieces of federal legislation have ever been successfully abolished by a subsequent administration from either sides of the isle.
That said, note that with liberty and freedom comes a price, and the price is tolerance. Just as all civil liberties and articles defined under freedom, the individual ought to be free to do as they please, so long that their actions do not infringe on the freedom of others.
Many believe that drugs, alcohol, and guns are harmful. Many people don’t agree with homosexuality. Many people don’t agree with certain Jewish customs (such as some of their circumcision rituals) . However, in a truly free society, the individual is open to inherit any of the aforementioned rights.
The late economist and thinker Murray Rothbard had pointed out a very basic and practical perspective:
“Keeping our eye on property rights, the entire flag question is resolved easily and instantly. Everyone has the right to buy (or weave) and therefore own a piece of cloth in the shape and design of an American flag (or in any other design) and to do with it what he will: fly it, burn it, defile it, bury it, put it in the closet, wear it, etc. Flag laws are unjustifiable violations of the rights of private property…
On the other hand, no one has the right to come up and burn your flag, or someone else’s. That should be illegal, not because a flag is being burned, but because the arsonist is burning your property without your permission. He is violating your property rights.
Note the way in which the focus on property rights solves all recondite issues.”
In conclusion, governments love tying emotional appeal to their agendas. By creating a hyper-patriotic society, it is much easier to contain a cluster of statist individuals, whom are driven by love of their fellow man, in order to utilize the patriotic threats of force from these individuals as a means to quell any public dissent. Especially dissent that calls to delegitimize the state itself through such an action as burning the state’s flag.
Author: Fadi Malkosh
Fadi Malkosh is the founder of Network Radio.