What is with people in this country? Do we have difficulty with abstract concepts? Do we have to actually leave our homes to believe the weather report?
Judging by the number of people who believe that no human has walked on the moon or that burning the American flag requires legal proscription (perhaps even Constitutional direction against), I think we do.
Today, the Republican-dominated House of Representatives was at it again, passing a bill that would make flag-burning a crime. I'd say that some of these folks ought to be shot, except that they probably can't distinguish between sarcasm and actual threat, and in these Patriot Act days, I'm sure that someone down there at the FBI would take it upon himself to start interviewing my neighbors.
Let me type this s-l-o-w-l-y for the folks who are missing the crux of this problem. Burning a flag is an exercise in really offensive, but thank-goodness-the-founding-fathers-included=-it-in-the-Bill-of-Rights, First-Amendment-protected free speech. The only reason to burn a flag (and not "the" flag... explanation follows) is to make your political opponent angry. That's the whole point of protecting free speech. If you don't protect free speech, anything you say that makes the party in power unhappy can result in random acts of political imprisonment or harassment. (Cf. Richard Nixon's enemies list and the use he intended to make of the IRS and the FBI.) I have every right to call our president a reactionary, illiterate, inbred, nepotistic doofus. I have every right to burn his photograph. And it should go without saying that I have the right to burn the flag.
Is that inflammatory? Oh yes (and heck, let's intend the pun, too). It's just less effective if you burn a piece of paper that says "USA." Even effigies come up short. But burn that flag, boy, and you've got peoples' attention -- and about 100 million new enemies.
Would I run out and burn a flag? No. I don't hate my country enough to do so, nor do I find it the most effective way to make a statement. But I say, if the guy down the block wants to walk downtown in front of the Federal Building, where all those security guards have all those guns, and burn a flag, have at it.
By the way, just because I'm opposed to outlawing the burning of flags in the abstract, I have no problem with outlawing burning specific flags. For instance, the flag displayed at the Smithsonian that made it through the British assault on Fort McHenry. If anyone ever maliciously damaged that flag, I'd be first in line to whack the offender, because that particular flag has historical meaning. The flag that was raised at Iwo Jima also deserves special protection. But a $1.99 flag I bought at Woolworth's (which was probably made in China, anyway) is no more to be protected than the Darth Vader action figure that came with my McDonald's happy meal.
This Supreme Court is problematical; I still think you can't limit free speech in this way. But I have a compromise solution that would stymie the protests that Republican legislators seem to detest without outlawing the specific act. Congress merely needs to require that all flags sold in the United States be manufactured out of flame-proof (or at least flame-retardant) materials. Then all a protestor could do would be to try to burn one.
Of course, then someone would probably post a clip of a burning flag on the Internet, and then we'd be facing the question of whether animation of a burning flag is the same crime as burning a flag.
Where's Ben Franklin when we need him?