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Should burning the American flag be protected under the Constitution?Several years ago...

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dbello | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted January 9, 2009 at 8:35 PM via web

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Should burning the American flag be protected under the Constitution?

Several years ago I wrote a news editorial, 'What would Betsy Ross think'? I decided upon a satirical 'Twainesque' title to emphasize my frame of reference.The following is an excerpt of that editorial.

Once again the issue over ones' right to burn the American flag has become a heated debate in the United States.In 1989 the Supreme Court struck down a Texas State law that prohibited the destruction of the American flag. The Supreme Court ruled that the Texas law violated the First Amendment. To avoid any other flag burning cases, the U.S. Congress passed 'The Flag Protection Act of 1989'.The law made it illegal to knowingly desecrate the flag.As a result courts began to hear several cases involving violators of The Flag Protection Act. Most of these cases included setting fire to American flags by Americans near or at various government buildings.However, it must be noted the protest towards The Flag Protection Act ended up taking a back seat to those who burned American flags in protest to a myriad of any and all other issues, primarily government policies. Defenders in these post separate 1989 cases asked for dismissal based upon the over-turned Texas case. The decision of the Federal court was that The Flag Protection Act of 1989 was unconstitutional.This was viewed as a victory for the flag burners. At the time of this editorial there are several lawmakers who have suggested the idea of an anti flag desecration amendment,however has met with mixed opinions.

The most important questions regarding this issue are these, What does the American flag stand for? Is flag burning an appropriate way to question the leadership of America?Should it be protected under The U.S. Constitution?

The American flag is not a symbol of the Republican Party or the Democratic Party.The American flag is is not a symbol of a particular presidential administration or the symbol of its opposition. The American flag is the amber waves of grain, the Grand Canyon, The Statue of Liberty, in other words the INTANGIBILE symbol of America...NOT TANGIBILE GOVERNMENT POLICIES. It is outlandish for Americans to desecrate the flag in protest of a certain administration's policies because desecrating the flag is in essence desecrating the idea of America itself. Would we burn pictures of Washington or Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence, or torture a bald eagle---probably not! The American flag surpasses and should be held far above the political quagmires of today.We have the right to protest our government, actually it is our Constitutional duty to do so. There are many ways to express discontent in this country, without burning an American flag. (And remember those that do are able to do so because this nation even protects actions that set fire not to another nations' flag but their own flag, a notion I have struggled with)

Does flag burning represent a just way to 'petition the government',an administration, a political party,all of America's horrible mistakes? (which there are many) or does it represent the aspiration of 'We The People'? Listen folks, I realize we are far from 'We The People" simply because its harder to change peoples' mindsets than it is to pass legislation. I just do not believe that Americans should burn their flag as a form of protesting the government. It is interesting because I created a survey regarding how Americans felt when they saw people from other nations burn our flag and the results were staggering. Using a random sampling of 200 people, 182 were angered when seeing the act committed by people of other nations, 12 thought it was a legitimate form of protest and 6 did not care one way or the other.The 182 people were than asked if they would be as angered if it were Americans burning the flag, 14 of them said they would rather see Americans burn the flag rather than and I quote "those other people"....I am still trying to make sense out of that response.

I think it is important that Americans remember the words of Woodrow Wilson, the twenty-eighth president of the United States...

     "The things that the flag stands for were created by the experiences of the people. Everything that it stands for was written by their lives. The flag is the embodiment, not the sentiment of history"

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 10, 2009 at 6:57 AM (Answer #2)

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Well-written article.  To answer you question, I do not think flag-burning should be permitted in our country as a way of displaying displeasure with the government.  As your editorial clearly explains, the flag is not representative of any one political party or president--it is an embodiment of our people and what our country stands for--it is rooted in the experiences of individuals who make up this country.  The flag should be respected by the citizens of this country and treated well.   It doesn't drag the floor when one walks with it; it doesn't fly in the rain; it doesn't fly after the seams are ripped and the colors are faded; and when it is in poor shape, it is not simply thrown away (as a certain political party did during this past presidential election) but rather, it is burned in celebration of its service.

That having been said, I also disagree with shorts being made out of flag material...watching marathon runners with the stars and stripes on their rumps is disheartening. 

The flag is a sacred symbol of our country.  It should be respected and protected.

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Jen Sambdman | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted January 11, 2009 at 10:15 AM (Answer #3)

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The most important questions regarding this issue are these, What does the American flag stand for? Is flag burning an appropriate way to question the leadership of America?Should it be protected under The U.S. Constitution?

This is the section of your article that a lot of people gloss over. I don't know if it was intended, but I read the first two questions as rhetorical since I am totally blinded by the obviousness of them. The flag stands for America; plain and simple. Flag burning is NOT an appropriate way to question the leadership either. Those are given "duh"s in my mind.

Just like #2 said, "the flag is a sacred symbol of our country". Just because someone doesn't agree with the current political leaders' administrative decisions does not mean that they should have the right to burn the flag in protest. Stage a walk, write to your local Congressman, do whatever you have to do, but burning the flag is too extreme. A lot of people weren't happy with Bush's leadership, but nobody set him on fire, so why set on fire the symbol of our country?

There is the first amendment saying "freedom of speech for all" and I am all for it, but there are limitations. You CAN go too far, and burning the flag is too darn far.

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enotechris | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted January 11, 2009 at 3:38 PM (Answer #4)

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The purpose of the US Constitution is to define the structure and function of government.  The Amendments in that Constitution were added to restrict government and protect the sovereignty of the individual. The purpose of that government was to safeguard those individual rights.

A flag-burning amendment? No, this restricts individuals and violates their freedom of expression.  As a nation of sovereign individuals, you can do anything you want-- as long as it doesn't interfere with the rights of another. If I so choose to burn my flag, who are you to forbid me?  In general, who are you to tell me what I may or may not do with my own property? You may not like it, you may find that action offensive, but these are no reasons to forbid it, and to pass law restricting how I dispose of my own property in this case would be to violate my freedom of expression. An amendment regarding flag burning would make a further farce of our founding document -- particularly since the proper way to dispose of a damaged flag is to burn it! Will we have yet another government agency to oversee who's burning as a means of proper destruction as opposed to burning as a means of protest?  Doesn't this open a rather large can of worms?

If some in this country engage in flag burning to express their displeasure towards our government, so be it.  It's sad that  they cannot take more effective political action to alter government; we are, in fact, supposed to be a government by, of, and for the people; perhaps flag burning is the frustrated expression of those in this country who feel marginalized politically.  If the system worked, protest flag burning would disappear. 

If foreigners burn our flag, maybe our foreign policy needs alteration. 

Rather than worrying about flag desecration, we should be focused on making this country the best it can be, and in so doing, the flag as a symbol of this country would hold not only our own, but everyone's respect. 

Excepting the last eight years, this country's done so much right for so long domestically and within the world  That's what I try and remember when flying the flag.  And when our government is wrong, I will still fly the flag, not as an approval of administrative actions, but as the embodiment of the best of this country, of the best of what it was and the best of what it still can be, as an expression of thanks that I live in a country where I can fly the flag I choose to fly and won't get shot by some government goon squad that disagrees. I will express my political displeasure by working to change the wrongs I see, because that's what this country is about, and I retain the right of expression.  If I want to put a flag sticker, be it Confederate or Union, on the back of my pickup truck, so be it. If I want to stitch the Union Jack on the back of my leather jacket while cruising down the highway on my motorcycle, that's my business. If I see a United Nations flag on the back of your car, well, to each his or her own, but I'm not going to run to my congress critter and complain about how offensive I find that organization, and that its flag should be forbidden to be seen in public because I find it offensive, because that would be interfering with your right of expression. Tolerance!  Where has it gone in this country?

When it's time to dispose of my old worn flag, I will burn it, because that's the appropriate action to take. You may do with your flag what you see fit. Because I hold myself to my own standards, I, for one, will never burn a United States flag as a means of protest, because burning a flag out of anger or displeasure is just wrong in my book. In addition for all the good for which it stands, too many in my family have bled and died for it. 

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engtchr5 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted January 12, 2009 at 9:03 AM (Answer #5)

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I have a pretty objective viewpoint on this one, I think. The Constitution's First Amendment defends freedom of speech and expression, among other things. If you feel that burning a symbol like a cross or the American flag is helping you make your point, then you legitimately have the right to do so.

Does it make those expressions okay, or even effective? Not really. If all of us had one dime for every clip of televised flag-burnings we've seen from around the world, none of us would have to teach or work. But when you try to recollect those burnings, what do you really remember? A bunch of people shouting perhaps, the burning flag itself, but then what? Was their point really made, or were they just relieving personal stress?

Like others, I think there are many better ways to show displeasure with one's government than by burning a symbol that embodies so much more. Millions have bled and died for what that flag represents -- to burn it is to spit upon the graves of those who died defending your freedom (if you're an American). However, if you have a burning desire to do so (pun intended), your right to that expression is guaranteed by the liberties so many others have indeed defended. Seems kind of paradoxical, in a way, doesn't it? Burning the very emblem of the freedom that you're using? As in all things, a little thought goes a long way.

 

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enotechris | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted January 17, 2009 at 6:27 PM (Answer #6)

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http://www.milkandcookies.com/link/48876/detail/

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brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 29, 2010 at 5:41 PM (Answer #7)

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Sure.  I know people get all worked up about this one, but about the only time I ever see an American flag being burned it's outside the US, where our laws have no jurisdiction anyway.  Other than that, in my entire 42 years of living I have never seen anyone light an American flag on fire.  Don't think I know anyone that would even, but from the sounds of some on this issue, you can't swing a dead cat by the tail without knocking over a gaggle of flag burners. It just seems a non-issue to me, like saying we should pass a law against Poodle Punting as a statement of free expression against dogs.  So burn away, I say, just don't count on being popular with your neighbors.

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geosc | College Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

Posted November 25, 2010 at 7:51 PM (Answer #8)

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I have seen flag-burners in this country, but very few to be sure.  I think, if you bought and paid for the flag, burn away.  If it is not your flag and you burn it, you are guilty of destruction of somebodyelse's property and can be prosecuted.

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 23, 2011 at 1:31 PM (Answer #9)

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The flag is symbolic, that's true. But if we make burning it illegal, not just unpatriotic, we are giving power to the protesters. If all they are doing is burning flags, we can simply shake our heads. However when we make a big deal out of it we give them ammunition and basically make it easy for them to hurt us.
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goober7894 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 4, 2011 at 4:31 AM (Answer #10)

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Sure.  I know people get all worked up about this one, but about the only time I ever see an American flag being burned it's outside the US, where our laws have no jurisdiction anyway.  Other than that, in my entire 42 years of living I have never seen anyone light an American flag on fire.  Don't think I know anyone that would even, but from the sounds of some on this issue, you can't swing a dead cat by the tail without knocking over a gaggle of flag burners. It just seems a non-issue to me, like saying we should pass a law against Poodle Punting as a statement of free expression against dogs.  So burn away, I say, just don't count on being popular with your neighbors.

In your 42 years of living you've never seen anyone light a flag on fire? I'm only 17 and I've seen plently of them lit on fire.

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