Reader Mail

Hate Burning

Heated reactions to Ben Stein's "Defending the Flag" -- a special Reader Mail section.

7.5.06

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FLAG DAYS
Re: Ben Stein's Defending the Flag:

Perhaps the editors could e-mail Mr. Stein's scholarly dissertation on banning the burning of Old Glory to the 37 Senate nincompoops who voted against the amendment. This veteran would certainly recommend and endorse such an action.
-- Jim Karr
Blue Springs, Missouri

This amendment itself mean nearly nothing to me, but I suppose I support it about like I'd support an amendment banning Girl Scout hot Jello wrestling. Considering the frequency of the offense, it's not at the top or my list of priorities.

What does offend me, however, is that the Republican Senate can completely alienate the base with phony immigration reform, profligate spending, etc., and then think we're going to get all warm and mushy over a flag burning amendment. They think we're a bunch of bumpkins that only need to be thrown a little red meat occasionally so that we'll play nice. "Well, geyooollie... dem boys really is one of us! Dey won't let the twelve million illegal aliens burn the guverment-subsidized flag we provided them through Medicare! I loves 'em!"

Blech...
-- Scott Stambaugh
Murphy, North Carolina

I honestly expect far more from Ben Stein. He's a wise, highly intelligent man.

And he knows very well that there's no constitutional ban on hate speech, and the other things he mentions in his article. It's one thing to suggest making a law against something. It's an entirely different thing to halt everything in D.C. with a war raging in Iraq and Afghanistan to try to pass an amendment to our constitution... especially over something that happened all of four times last year.

Mr. Stein is being intellectually dishonest, and I hope deep in his heart, he must be ashamed of this blatant pandering to the weak minded in our society: those fools that can't tell a cheap political stunt from honest policy. Shame, Mr. Stein, shame on you. We expect more from you.
-- Heath

The Constitution says for the people, by the people. It should now read for the left, by the left, or by the special interests, for the special interests, or for the ACLU, by the ACLU. If it is illegal to show child pornography online -- give it a little bit more time -- the ACLU will have that overturned as well.
-- C.R. Bynum

Mr. Stein, only an idiot pledges allegiance to a flag, and you are no idiot. What are you up to?

Our flag is the symbol of what we pledge allegiance to, and what we pledge allegiance to are the ideals set forth in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. That's what makes America what it is.

You can't show child pornography online because it's an industry that destroys the lives of children. But citing hate speech and sexual harassment puts us on a slippery slope, Ben, and you are slippery for using these in your lax argument. Ignoring the many abuses of the hate speech and sexual harassment laws, laws that by simple extension cripple speech in much of Europe, you embrace them here for your convenience and use this "logic" to criminalize a form of expression, vile though it is.

You're an influential man, Mr. Stein, and if you don't embrace the idea that it is always and only speech that is offensive that requires protection, then you coarsen us as a people to the extent that your views are adopted by others. It's just that your ox got gored here, so you thrash around for a logical way to prove a point. If everyone's hot-button issues were enforced, we would live in a police state.

In this argument we all get to choose which is more important, the flag or the Bill of Rights. It's a test. Choose wisely.
-- Gerald Brennan
Ann Arbor, Michigan

While I share many of Ben Stein's sentiments about our flag, I have to come back to the fallacy of a symbol mistaken for the thing it represents.

Then as one who has experienced authoritarianism and totalitarianism both on the right and left, I can appreciate the wonderment in a society where you will not be arrested for stupid act of burning the flag of your country, or where a police officer is generally not authorized to arrest you for being an illegal alien waiting at a street corner to be offered a day job. And I could go on with other examples.

Recently, The Opinion Journal from The Wall Street Journal, expressed this sentiment best, and I quote:

"Burning the flag is a stupid and ugly act, but there is something lovely and enlightened about a regime that tolerates it in the name of freedom. And of course it has the added benefit of making it easier to spot the idiots."
-- Thomas A. Edelman
Santa Monica, California

Interesting article by Ben Stein published 6/30/2006 12:10:56 AM on spectator.org. Although, you may want to confirm the validity of some of his statements. Specifically, the following two:

"You can't call members of various ethnic groups by slurring words that were common when I was a child. That's called hate speech, and it's barred by law in most if not all parts of the nation."

"What occurs to little me is that if we can tell a man he'll go to jail for calling a black man a name that any child can hear a thousand times a day on rap radio stations..."

Currently, there is not any law barring or punishing "Hate Speech" in the United States. There are "Hate Crime" laws but nothing legally barring you making verbal racial slurs. Therefore, you cannot go to jail (legally) for calling a black, white, green, yellow, or red man a bad name.

These laws do exist in many European countries (where I live). I'm not sure why Ben Stein (someone that's seemingly very well-informed and a lawyer) would write these false statements.

If I'm in error here please let me know.

Hope this helps,
-- Adam Hyer

For years the secular liberals have been on the warpath to diminish and eliminate American icons like our dear "ole glory," the Boy Scouts of America, the "Cross," "Christmas," and even the traditional family (of one man, one woman joined in holy matrimony before making babies) to name a few.

I think its marvelous simplistic reasoning on your part, Ben, in regards to the flag burning issue. Using political correctness made law by the liberals to right this terrible wrong. (I think you're on to something.)
-- John Nelson
Hebron, Connecticut

I cannot believe the position Ben Stein is taking here. Last I checked there is no constitutional amendment that prohibits hate speech. Some states have passed hate crime laws, some organizations, such as universities, have rules and regulations against hate speech, but, as Ben points out, racial epitaphs are used in music and on the street with considerable freedom. I certainly find flag burning offensive. I would even go as far as to forbid my employees from burning a flag in my place of business just as I do not allow racial epitaphs in the office.

However, do we really need a constitutional amendment to forbid the burning of a piece of cloth that happens to be a symbol? This very same symbol flies all over my city overnight, in the rain, is emblazoned on shirts, stuck in the ground for a holiday and left for dogs to use as a marking post. I think the person that burns a flag in protest is honoring everything this country stands for far more that the idiot car dealer that leaves the flag flying 24/7 simply as a way to draw people to their business. Free political speech is absolutely protected by the constitution. A flag burning amendment would be a stain on the face of the constitution.

Thank God that sanity prevailed in the Senate in the face of this lunacy!
-- Tom Cabanski

Three cheers for Ben Stein on his analysis of what should be protected speech and what should not be. My reading of his article was especially timely because I had just viewed the odious Reverend (for goodness sake who in the world ordains these people?). Barry Lynn on morning TV attack a public school for displaying a large picture of the historic Christ on the wall next to the principal's office for forty years. It was accurately pointed out by the counter person that the second amendment has absolutely no applicability in such situations as the prohibitions against Congress making no law establishing religion is meaningless since Congress is not involved in the slightest way. So much for the Democrats making inroads into the religious vote, it just is not going to happen with such over the top bigotry. I'm sure the Founding Fathers would be amazed to see how the first and second amendments have been abused by the far left.
-- Jack Wheatley
Royal Oak, Michigan

Four reasons why the Flag Burning Amendment is stupid:

1) American men and women didn't die protecting the flag, they died protecting the Constitution. When I enlisted in the US Navy in 1987, I raised my right hand and swore to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. There was no mention of a flag of any kind.

2) We've already done a pretty good job of making desecration of the flag a daily occurrence. If the flag is so revered a symbol as to require Constitutional protection, how can we abide seeing pasted across T-shirts, underwear, coffee cups, soda cans, adorning drinks, on food wrappers, etc., etc. Commercialism desecrated the flag a long time ago.

3) Given its omnipresence, how do we decide what's desecration? If I throw away the little toothpick flag in my drink, is that desecration? Protocol demands that any flag that has been soiled by the earth be burned. That'll have to change won't it?

4) Flag burning in America is not exactly a common occurrence. Make it illegal and it will be.
-- Bryan Duffey
Rochester, New Hampshire

I read Ben Stein's article on why flag burning should be prohibited. The argument is persuasive from a "fair-is-fair" perspective, so much so that this rationale has been discussed heatedly on talk radio all weekend.
In an ideal world, these arguments would hold sway, and free speech would be either much less limited than it is or flag burning would take its place alongside cross burning and other legally defined "hate speech."

There have been other arguments and concerns put forth to prohibit flag burning, especially political ones -- States' rights and others -- but I don't think these kinds of consideration animate anyone except the experts.

Instead, the average person responds differently to flag burning than cross burning for more immediate, personal reasons.

Cross burning, swastika painting, child pornography and anti-homosexual speech targets individuals, or least easily identifiable minority groups or children. These individuals, with a lesser ability to defend themselves against violence and discrimination, have historically been the true victims of violent criminal attacks from the perpetrators or consumers of this "hate speech" .

Lynching, pogroms, attacks on gay bars -- all these occurred not uncommonly in the near past. That is very different from the (non-existent) sequelae of a few hippies torching a flag at a dumb demonstration. The United States or its majority citizens (i.e., Caucasians, Christians, and heterosexuals, respectively) are not threatened personally by such behavior, misguided and puerile as it is.

These days, of course, and only the most strident of the political left would disagree, these minority groups have largely gained their freedom from persecution in this country (I am not arguing this as 100% freedom but mostly at the least, and child pornography seems to have grown in conjunction with the cultural changes wrought by the "counterculture" of the 1960s). What role did laws preventing hate speech and other discriminatory acts play in our cultural evolution? Or, more importantly, how many serious and/or violent attacks (or job loss or failures to buy a house) on these individuals have been prevented because of these and similar laws and the debate and discussion the nation went through during their drafting and passage? I don't know but I must imagine that they played a very significant role. If you were one of these groups, wouldn't you feel queasy at the thought of possible reversal of some of these legal or civil protections? I would say that Jews in France likely feel this way. It certainly explains for me the anxiety of the black community during reported episodes of the burning of black churches during the Clinton years.

I realize that political issues play large here, and that these issues get recirculated as strategies to paint the other guy as something the painters think will work against the painted. Political strategy is not my strength but I conclude that Republicans need to go beyond the tactics of the Democrats -- don't write long articles or spend hours on the radio equating the flag-revering citizen as a victim of (reverse) racial/religious politics -- and acknowledge the reasons why minority protections still need reinforcing. Don't let conservatives be targeted as deniers or minimizers of the horrible insults black Americans and homosexuals have suffered in our history. Instead, emphasize our understanding of this history, as the starting point for new initiatives to correct the failures of some of these anti-discrimination policies, and concentrate on arguing how the real effect of some of them, however well-meaning, has been shown to have caused harm to these minority groups and thus society overall.
-- David Ciavarella

Ben Stein is right. The exceptions to the right of free speech have expanded almost immeasurably since the good old days of a mere bar on "yelling 'Fire' in a crowded theatre, which Mr. Stein probably recalls from his law school days. Indeed, the exceptions, from those cited by Mr. Stein to the preposterous campaign finance laws now in effect threaten to totally overwhelm the right itself, a death by a thousand cuts, and its on that account that I must disagree with him.

Am I too sensitive or is there a trend here? The trend I think I perceive is that speech itself is merely the nominal target; the goal is enforcement of orthodoxy of thought, the very notion of which was abhorrent to our Founders.

People who yell fire in crowded theatres plainly risk a catastrophe. Those who traffic in child pornography victimize children, directly or indirectly, and I can see no proscription in the Constitution against protecting children from predators. People who murder others because of their race, for example, are certainly engaged in criminal activity already punishable under the law; there is no real need to punish their distasteful motives.

On the other hand, people who burn or otherwise desecrate Old Glory are jerks. People who call others by offensive names are jerks. People who persist in unwelcome sexual advances are jerks. Whatever happened to simply shunning such people or telling them off, even intimidating them? Nowadays, the proliferation of hate speech regulations contributes mightily to the clogging of our court system with complaints from those aggrieved by the bruising of their sensibilities, while the trial lawyers rub their hands together in greedy glee.

I must except to Mr. Stein's characterization of our flag as "sacred," a term I think best reserved for use in relation to matters of religion. One might quibble about this, but it's my opinion that political orthodoxy, in the form of political correctness, is becoming entrenched as a sort of national religion, often to the exclusion of traditional religion. I hate to see that trend accelerated by this choice of word. I wonder what Ann Coulter would think of my argument?

I have tremendous respect for the symbolism of our flag, and I thank anyone who desecrates it for identifying themselves to me as someone whose point I may wisely discount and whose person I will shun. At least they come right out and make themselves known, unlike some self-proclaimed patriots who work by subterfuge to undermine our Constitutional heritage while wearing a lapel pin version of the flag next to their heart.

Having allowed the camel to get its nose under the base of the tent with the proliferation of limits on free speech beyond those presenting a danger in and of themselves, we are on a slippery slope. Although the Ninth Circuit (yes, the looney tune circuit!) recently ruled that a man cannot be required to undergo penile plethysmography as a condition of his parole, the imposition of such a requirement by a district judge shows a couple of things. One is that the imposition of direct and most intrusive regulation of thought itself is already deemed acceptable in some judicial quarters. Second is that technology is expanding in ways that facilitate the direct monitoring of human thought for compliance with orthodoxy. Today it's "for the children," as the subject of the ruling had been convicted of possessing child porn. Given the trend of our political culture, however, I have no doubt that someone will eventually come up with a way to employ some such technology in support of political incumbents, rather like campaign finance laws are today.

Like it or not, the libertarian roots of our Constitution are utterly essential to its survival. Our founders recognized that some blood would perhaps be spilled from time to time in its defense. Now, we've "progressed" to the point that our culture can't bear to have its citizens (at least those in privileged groups) endure a stupid insult flung by a nitwit, or even a compliment, the recipient of which doesn't want to hear it from the particular person who offered it.

If some jackass wants to burn the flag, I say let him. Let him label himself as a jackass, and respond according to one's own heart. For myself, seeing the flag burned I hold as an insult. However, it merely reinforces my own dedication to what it stands for, which includes our Constitutional heritage, which sadly is shredded by the forces of political orthodoxy day in and day out, always for some allegedly noble, if not sacred, purpose. I'm more aroused to love of our country by seeing the flag burned than I am by seeing some grotesque, football-field sized caricature of it being mindlessly shaken in celebration of some trifling cultural phenomenon, which I consider an insult to its dignity despite popular perception to the contrary.
-- Mark Fallert
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The flag is sacred? We should we protect it from being burned? Is the nation sacred? Should we be protecting it from being burned, dismantled and erased? From what I'm seeing there won't be a nation to fly the sacred flag over in about two decades?

Between the Senate and the Bush administration's efforts to flood this country with a tidal wave of new immigrants and technical workers. See Senate bill H.S. 2611 and the Pence compromise. And a secret cabal called the SPP working out of the dungeons of the Commerce Department to erase the borders between the US, Canada and Mexico in order to create the North America Union. Will there be a United States of America left to fly Old Glory over?

The Bush Administration is selling the rights to our ports to foreign nations while at the same time drawing up plans to build so called transportation corridors up to four football fields wide to be built by international financial consortiums to bring cheap imported goods up through Mexico made by slave laborers in Asian countries. The first to be built is the TTC, or the Texas Transportation Corridor, starting in Mexico and ending in Canada. If at this point you think I'm a crackpot, search for NASCO, or North American Super Corridor on any web search engine. In fact they plan on more than one NAFTA corridor, check out the following if you don't believe me: fina-nafi.org

Once the Bush Administration, along with Canada and Mexico have finally implemented their SPP, or the Security and Prosperity Plan, by 2012 you'll not only be able to burn all the flags of the Stars and Stripes but will probably be encouraged to do so by the elites in charge.

May I suggest we forgo the November elections, and the 2008 presidential elections, and just fast track the SPP? Once it's in place there will be no need for corrupt politicians to run for Federal office anymore. We'll have plenty of corrupt bureaucrats, international corporations and the nanny-state telling us how to live. Remember think globally. Nation states are as dead as the dodo. The new law of the land will be International corporate governance. You also might want to visit your state capital sometime soon, because they'll all be museums in the not too distant future showcasing the glory of your state governments' past history and accomplishments.

The way things are going, we won't need to defend the flag. Burn baby, burn!
-- William Weaver
American Citizen, USA

Ben Stein is absolutely right. Under existing First Amendment jurisprudence, it should be permissible to ban flag burning as a form of hate speech -- without any Constitutional amendment. But the real problem is the existing jurisprudence itself. The First Amendment protects speech, not conduct. Even if conduct has some element of expression, it is not speech. Flag burning and pornography are conduct, and therefore undeserving of any First Amendment protection. There is something seriously wrong when the First Amendment protects conduct like flag burning and pornography, yet does not prohibit strict regulation of political speech.
-- J. Szuma

AMEN to Ben's piece on the flag! Can't remember which, but in the last few days I read and re-read a piece in a conservative net location where they bragged about their fear that a constitutional amendment protecting the flag might just pass. They cited typical legal tripe about the glorious constitution akin to the legal tripe (international law, it's alive, etc.) that is used so very often to ignore and decimate that very constitution. Using what my con law prof called "judicial obtuseness" our liberal courts can justify anything and call upon some obscure concept alleged to be somewhere in that document.

Flag burning carries with it an obvious reality. Remember when our "youth" with their unwashed (really) demeanor were burning flags and even R.O.T.C. buildings, because they were being encouraged and excused for their scummy behavior? One recent argument is we don't have it happen much. I can recall a time when allowing the flag to TOUCH the ground brought gasps. In that time respect and civility were predominant, not today's longing for the lawless irresponsible 60's we see in today's liberal mouthpieces, nor the laziness that accepts the unacceptable.

I am incensed when I see Islamic fascists burning the American flag around the world. To allow it here, where 40 gallant American heroes lie a part of a Pennsylvania field is unspeakable. To Ben: keep it up! I live vicariously through you.
-- Morris J. Turkelson
Deatsville, Alabama

I finally disagree with Ben Stein. I don't want the government to decide what is sacred. He is absolutely correct about the inconsistency, however.

If you look at the budget, everything is too sacred to eliminate. Eventually that power will be abused in a way similar to the lists of varmints, herbs and weeds within the Endangered Species Act. I think that legislatures should remove all civil and criminal protections while people are in the process of burning their own flag.
-- Danny L. Newton
Cookeville, Tennessee

Ben Stein writes: "What occurs to little me is that if we can tell a man he'll go to jail for calling a black man a name that any child can hear a thousand times a day on rap radio stations, why can't we say it's also a slur to people's feelings -- especially veterans' feelings -- to burn the flag?"

I'm not sure you could be sent to jail for using the n-word, but I'm pretty sure that being subjected to the term would be a mitigating circumstance in court for a black man who retaliates with violence.

Maybe that's the answer to flag-burning. My burning the flag is simply a means of political expression -- constitutionally protected speech. By the same logic, when you break my nose, you are simply expressing yourself in a constitutionally protected manner. Keep the courts and Congress out of it and let the private sector work its magic.

Besides, I do have an occasional urge to burn the flag. These feelings first surfaced on January 22, 1973.
-- Dan Martin
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
P.S. "House n*****" is a politically correct term, as long as the object of your hatred is Condoleezza Rice.

Flag burning is an infamous act that ought not to be illegal, because:

1. Hate speech might injure its victim. Obscenity to children certainly does. 'Fire!' in a theatre is obvious. But for sure flag burning hurts nobody. We patriots are far too strong for such a trivial insult to wound.

2. Flag burning helps us identify fools, demagogues and traitors.

3. The conflict or disparity in treatment of the 'expression' you identify does penetrate the hearts and minds of the voters. They will know that the left are frenetic, controlling and vicious and the right are tolerant, wise and strong.

4. Perhaps there is a pledge of allegiance to the flag, but surely that is symbolic. Surely the allegiance is to the Nation, its constitution and its citizens. We must be careful not to create graven images.

5. There are already too many statutory laws, and Mr. Stein, being a trained lawyer makes it difficult for you to see how damaging this is. This is yet another case for private action. Do you have a flag pole, with a flag? If not, why not? This controversy, your article and my letter have galvanized me. I have neither flag nor pole but that will be rectified this weekend.

Please, will you reconsider?
-- Fred Z.

I love Ben Stein's work (both political and comedic) but have to disagree with his article about protecting the flag and free speech. Conservatives should be defending the right of free speech over the protection of the flag. We need more free speech, not less. Free speech is much more important than flag protection. Free speech is also more important than campaign reform.
-- unsigned

Ben is certainly free to enumerate the various flavors human beings come in whenever he refers to us collectively, but I wish he'd not take his freedom to do so as an obligation to. Yes, Ben (and so many others), it's certainly true that "... many brave men and women have died" in the defense of our wonderful country.

They were all people. Can't we this Fourth declare independence from the Language Usage Committees of the feminists and social workers? Let's see if we can't get away with referring to mixed-sex cohorts as "people." A lot of people have died in defense of our great country.

A bold resolve, true -- but the hour grows late and there's time for naught but bold resolves.
-- Paul Kotik
Plantation, Florida

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