By Chris Barts
The Constitution recently had a close call. The Senate failed to pass an amendment that would have banned all physical desecration of the U.S. flag. But it was a narrow victory for freedom.
The vote came out as 63 senators voting for the amendment and 37 against it, falling short of the two-thirds majority required by only four votes. The House had previously passed the amendment with the prerequisite votes. This outcome was too close to be comfortable, as banning flag desecration is banning a form of free speech.
The First Amendment to the Constitution provides the right to free speech. Free speech can take many forms, from the shouted slogan at a rally, the speech in a legislative assembly, even a poster on a wall or a shirt worn on a back. It also includes desecrating the flag to get a point across. In fact, from all of the debate, burning flags would be a very effective protest. Everyone who makes an issue of this just gives those who want to offend them a good method: Burning the flag. Legislating against it would be the best thing that ever happened to those who want to burn flags, judging from how much media attention they'd receive.
The supporters of the anti-desecration amendment say that it would increase respect for the flag. On the contrary, it would enforce a fear of going afoul of a law. It would also, as I just mentioned above, give more of a voice to those who want to protest the government by burning flags, not to mention another good reason to protest. It is never good to pass a law that would end up having the opposite effect of what it was intended to have.
Banning a form of free speech, and flag desecration is a form of free speech, is trampling on the principles this nation was founded upon. We have fought for those principles for over two hundred years now. From the battles of the Revolution, to the hard-fought Civil War, to both world wars and numerous other conflicts, we never died for a piece of cloth. We died for a piece of a dream. That dream cannot be forced upon anyone, but can be defended, and fought for, and won. That dream is the dream of freedom. Flags fade, rot, and have to be disposed of. Dreams never fade, are immune to rot, and must never be discarded. Which one would any army die for?
Patriotism is a value system. It cannot be enforced. It cannot be legislated. It cannot be made to happen through a dictate. It must be believed in and lived, if it is to be at all. But not everyone must have it. One of our most basic freedoms is having the right to choose in important issues. The decision whether or not to be patriotic is an important issue. This fact makes sure we should always have the right to protest, and protest includes burning the flag. This country was, in fact, founded upon protest. Thomas Jefferson burned the British flag. We have fought for that right ever since.