The Fourth of July is upon us. The anniversary of the founding of this glorious country finds us in controversy, as always, and as it was intended to be. That’s what democracies and republics are about: controversy. One of the controversies that came to a boil this past week and will undoubtedly have a spot in the upcoming elections is about a Constitutional amendment to ban burning Old Glory. A vote for this amendment failed by one vote very recently in the Senate, and the issue is far from over with.
The argument for not burning the flag is fairly clear: it’s the symbol of the nation. It represents the nation that hundreds of thousands have died for. It represents our sacred pledges to our nation. It’s what we pledge allegiance to.
The argument against is simply that one of our core values is free speech. Burning the flag is a form of speech, some courts have ruled, so burning it should be protected by the First Amendment, which protects free speech.
Well and good, except this argument just does not hold up. We already have many exceptions to a complete protection of free speech. You can’t show child pornography online. 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.
In some settings, you cannot tell a woman in your office that she looks sharp in her new sweater or tell a man that he has nice buns in his new trousers. That’s called sexual harassment and it’s been found to be illegal.
In other words, there are already immense exceptions to the doctrine of free speech. 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?
If we can tell people that it’s obscene to show pictures of children having sex (and it is), why can’t we say it’s obscene to burn the flag that is the symbol of this shining city on a hill, a flag for which many brave men and women have died? If it hurts women’s feelings to hear sex jokes at the office and if that’s illegal, doesn’t it also hurt patriots’ feelings to see the flag burned?
I don’t get it. Why is protecting the flag less of a priority than banning song lyrics or dirty jokes or pornography?
What am I missing here? The flag is sacred. There is more than enough state interest in protecting to keep it from being burned. Can we reconsider this, please?