Mar 27, 2007

America should not enforce flag laws

by Claire Melsi, Opinion
The flag of the United States has been a symbol of American pride and resilience since the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act on June 14, 1777.  According to usflag.org, although many believe Betsy Ross to have been the first to create a tangible flag, its origin is unverifiable.  Since the flag’s formation hundreds of years ago, the laws surrounding it have fluctuated from state to state.

Congress created a code in December of 1942 stating how to go about displaying the flag, but no penalties were created for ignoring it. With the official code in mind, each of the individual states were free to create appropriate laws concerning the patriotic symbol. In Texas vs. Johnson, a case that prosecuted Johnson for burning a flag in protest, the court concluded that under the First Amendment the protestor could not be prosecuted. Since the ruling, some believe that flag laws are not taken as seriously. Those punished for flag desecration are penalized because of their sentiment rather than their action and by punishing the desecrators, the government defies the rights for which the flag stands. While ideally, American citizens should have a great respect for their nation’s flag, burning the flag should not be outlawed.

 I have a great respect for all of our armed forces, and personally find any form of flag desecration to be intolerable and incredibly disrespectful, but by defining what people can and cannot do with the symbol, we disregard the very liberty soldiers are fighting for. It is only because of the laying down of valiant lives that immature, irreverent protestors are even able to display such lack of respect.

In 1989, President George H.W. Bush passed the Flag Protection Act as a constitutional amendment. According to esquilax.com, this amendment was created in an attempt to stop the desecration of the flag but instead only caused more protests and increased the amount of flag destruction. Although the development of new regulation often requires disagreement, confrontation and change, those capable of creating progress should be civilized enough to find respectful ways to communicate opinions.

Though the flag should be respected as a symbol of national honor, it is not the responsibility of the government to regulate whether or not burning it should be legal. The less government regulation there is, the better. Government should limit its regulating to decisions that are essential to the country’s well being. Flag burning, though devastating to national morale, does not, for the most part, physically endanger anyone. Once officials start tampering with age-old rules and establishing more and more laws, a slippery slope of intolerance is formed down which may eventually limit even more of our freedoms. The more power there is in the hands of the people the better. Outlawing flag burning would obviously be an infringement of Constitutional rights.

Still, the whole concept of a soldier dying for his country so that his neighbor can burn that same flag is a little baffling to me. Men die so that others may freely express their opinions in whichever way they choose. And when people protest disrespectfully, they really are disrespecting those who have fought to give them their freedom. Yet, in the end, as ugly of an idea as it may be, that is the beauty that makes America. I think that we ought to respect our Armed Forces, but by outlawing the desecration of the flag we defy the very freedoms our soldiers are fighting for.

In the end, creating laws to make burning the American flag illegal would hurt our society more than it would help it.  An oxymoron is established when the flag that stands for freedom is smothered by regulation. I hope that the government will recognize that in trying to control every aspect of civilization, it stifles the flame of freedom so patriotically embodied in the magnificent American flag.

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