Ban Flag Burning, Ban Everything? Essay, Research Paper
Ban Flag Burning, Ban Everything?
Citizens’ right to flag burning should not be deprived, as there is nothing illegitimate in principle about doing so for the purpose of demonstrating one’s dissent from government laws or practices. This is their fundamental right of doing everything they please, as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others. The Supreme Court, the umpire of the federal system, has already ruled many times in favor of the action that is protected by the First Amendment–the freedom of speech. Congress has also repeatedly, four times precisely, rejected bills about such matters. The ultimate reason is because forbidding citizens to burn the flag is unconstitutional.
In the well-known Texas V. Johnson case, Supreme Court determined that what Gregory Johnson did (burned a flag) was expressive conduct, protected by the Constitution, and his actions did not constitute fighting words. Since not all offensive conduct will incite a riot or disturb the peace, the government may not outlaw certain types expressive conduct simply because they may have such effects. The majority of judges also made the famous quote, if there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. The hateful behaviors of Ku Klux Klan are no doubt distasteful and disgusting, but we still tolerate them. It is because we know downright if marches and demonstrations were not allowed, we would never have seen the success of the civil rights movements.
Americans live in a country whose Constitution guarantees to protect her citizens’ rights. As Senator Ted Kennedy said, The words of the first amendment are simple and majestic: Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech. The proposed constitutional amendment [prohibiting flag burning] would undermine that fundamental liberty. The dangerous part of passing such a law is that it is not about destruction of physical property, but tells people how to think and act. Because one does not like the idea about burning the national icon, this does not mean he or she can force others to stop, as the icon itself represents freedom. Freedom is a principle this country was founded on. If individuals are not allowed to protest in a way just because it is not preferable to others, it is easy to destroy the principles of America. That is what actually undermines the meanings of the symbol. No wonder Bush s secretary of state, Colin Powell, a retired four-star general who opposed the measure in 1999 said, I would not amend that great shield of democracy to hammer a few miscreants. The flag will be flying long after they have slunk away.
Some opponents think it is simply disrespectful and provocative to burn the flag. This is probably their strongest and only argument. Certainly, it is disrespectful or even outrageous; it is also not a suitable way to protest. Nevertheless, it is not a convincing reason to ban an activity that does not infringe on others’ rights. All it does is to upset some groups because they find that offensive. And nobody has a right to stop individuals from not respecting him or her. The Supreme Court once stated, “One man’s obscenity is another man’s lyric.” If laws can be passed just because something hurts someone’s feelings, one can hardly do anything in this country. For instance, the provocative and insulting lyrics of those popular rappers are really offensive, but this country endures them because this is the reason why we like it.
It is ridiculous to put someone in jail because he or she burns a piece of cloth (not to mention that is his or her own property). Laws based on emotions are always dangerous. If the motive of establishing an anti-flag burning law is to penalize the desecraters, there is a high possibility that there may be a law forbidding tearing the flag someday. Moreover, even if there is a rule forbidding them to commit the profanation, it does not make them become more reverent to the flag. But one thing for sure is that the law will effectively ruin the spirit of freedom. I wonder how great it will be to have a law that does us nothing good but just brings up more conflicts. The very first step of setting up such a law may lead to a chain-reaction causing the passing of more and more ridiculous laws. If there is a law forbidding burning the flag today, there may be a law forbidding tearing it tomorrow because of disrespect.
What one should do is to understand the true meanings of the symbol, but not blindly idolize it. A piece of cloth is meaningless. What are important are its ideas, which cannot be burned or removed. If the symbol is more important than what it represents, then the flag is blasphemed, is abused. This country does not need the majority to dictate what the minorities should do, and neither do the heroes who risked their lives to fight for the national icon. (I have talked with some veterans about this issue; and amazingly enough, unlike what most people think that they must welcome the flag-burning law, the majority of them, just like General Powell, do not see it as a good idea.) It is too much a cost to sacrifice the spirit of the Red, White and Blue for the sake of physical worship.