Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Happy Flag Day... Now Hands Off The Constitution

One vote. That's all the flag-burning amendment needs to become law.

It currently has 66 supporters in the Senate (it needs 67). It's passed the House. It will be ratified by all 50 state legislatures (more than the 38 needed) if it gets through the Senate.

Fans of the flag-burning amendment like to bring up how many soldiers have died for that flag. Actually, I thought the soldiers died to protect their countrymen's freedom. Which includes the freedom to do things like, oh, say, burn the flag. Oh, and when the President takes the oath of office, does he talk about preserving, protecting, and defending the flag? No. He swears to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.

Sure, flag burning is despicable. But just because an action is despicable doesn't mean we should outlaw it. We can't differentiate between speech we like and speech we don't like - otherwise "freedom of speech" becomes meaningless. Any constitutional amendment that cuts into the First Amendment rights that make our country special is not a monument to those who died for this nation - it is the worst possible affront to their memories.

Update: Bob Kerrey agrees with me.


Mike said...

Very well put. I felt compelled to comment over on my blog, but I borrowed some of your words.

But yeah, this would really blow goats.

OWM said...

I'm probably going to get a lot of crap from you guys on this BUT

1. I didn't see anywhere in that article that it would make defacing the flag illegal. Does that new law say that I can't cut it up, put it under a cows ass, spray paint a happy face(or a sad face). Is it just for burning. Which brings me to point 2

2. Does anyone else see how F'N stupid it is to burn a flag in the middle of a bunch of protesters who I'm gonna guess more then half aren't paying attention to the guy setting the thing on fire and waving it around. Besides, isn't it illegal to have a fire in the middle of a public street?

3. The Senator is the voice of the people, right? Doesn't that mean that the majority want this? If all 50 states pass this, wouldn't this be what "we" want? But what if this amd passes and then everyone decides it was a bad rule and decides they want to burn flags again. Well it would already be proven that it can change so they fight to change it back. If anything this may help show people that if you want something enough in this country, you can get it. Maybe using something that in all honesty doesn't really take away a freedom in the sense of taking away life, liberty, or property. All it does is take away the right to act like a caveman. No matter what you say, destruction of anything is barbaric. There are other ways to get attention.

Now saying that, I don't really care about burning flags. What I'm saying is if you want it bad enough, this country will give it to you. "We" wanted this enough to where it may pass. If you don't want it, fight for next time. This may give hope to those against the person right to bear arms. Those who think the voting age shold be lowered or raised. SOmetimes change is good, if only for a little bit to show us what we are blind to. See prohibition, they changed it, then changed it right back.

How do you deny the majority of something they want? Its supposed to be "our" government right. So why is it wrong to do this.

I would not be infavor of this adm, but I am infavor of the rights given to us by the Constution to change it.

Jeff said...

OWM - The amendment reads "The Congress shall have the power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States." Burning, per se, wouldn't be illegal as the preferred flag disposal method, but it would be illegal as a form of "desecration."

The problem with the amendment is this: it is a limitation on rights guaranteed to us explicitly elsewhere in the Constitution. Furthermore, it is a limitation on one of our most fundamental rights. You're exactly right that the message this amendment sends is that if you want something banned bad enough, you can do so. That's a bad thing. Say someone looks at the success of this amendment and says they want blasphemy against God banned; they would now be empowered to do so... and so on. The more things are banned, the more our freedoms are eroded.

Furthermore, this amendment sends the message that the right to free speech is not absolute. A right to free speech limited by popular conceptions of "acceptability" is no right at all.

Thomas Sowell once wrote that "when your response to everything that is wrong with the world is to say 'there ought to be a law,' you are saying that you hold freedom very cheap." Sure, most people find flag burning despicable, but most people are also not looking at the big picture with regards to this amendment. That's what we pay Senators (and, to a lesser extent, Representatives) for - to look at the big picture and ensure that cooler heads prevail.

Jeff said...

I meant to say in my first paragraph there - the amendment wouldn't explicitly outlaw flag desecration, but it would open the door to a Congressional law forbidding it which would almost certainly pass.

Mike said...

An interesting point that came up during my conversation with Pork Boy last night: in a way, amending the Constitution in and of itself is a form of free expression, that is, the expression of the majority that they are opposed to something to the extent of amending the Constitution to change it. The trouble with that particular form of expression is it infringes upon the freedoms of others.

But then, it's always that way with freedoms: they're a balancing act. My freedom to walk around talking loudly into my cell phone impairs your freedom to walk around in silence. People's freedom to stand in front of a building and burn a flag in protest inhibits the freedom of people to enter that building and do their jobs in peace.

Ultimately, one of the ironic consequences of a free society is that those that live in it will try to limit the freedoms of others. Fortunately, it doesn't mean we can't speak out against the majority - at least it doesn't mean that yet. However, this amendment would eliminate one particular way of speaking out against the majority - and that is its inherent danger.

(The other irony is that I will guarantee, sans doute, that if this amendment passes, flag burnings will increase. Jeff, I believe you called that the Bernard Effect.)

OWM said...

when does the destruction of property(be it yours or theirs) on public grounds go from freedom of speech to agressive protest. Whats the line? I think the burning of anything in a crowd is dangerous and not peaceful. So if some idiot is burning a flag and I'm in the crowd with him, is he not putting my life in danger? Is that not a threat to me? Though thats not why the law is being made I like it for that reason alone.

Now if this admn gets passed it will have loopholes like every thing else in our government. Whats stopping you from burning a lookalike? Make one with a few missing stars and a few missing reds and whites and its no longer the flag of the United States legally. If you can burn a picture of the President and make a funny looking dolls thats hanging on a stick and put a picture of him on that, then whats stopping you from burning a picture in protest of the flag?

Jeff said...

OWM - Agreed. Woodhead's Fourth Law - build a better wall, and someone will build a better ladder.

And if someone buys a flag or is given a flag, the property is theirs. They can do whatever they like with it - even burn it. They may be violating a fire code, but not a federal law. Most protesters are prepared to be booked for minor "public disturbance" offenses (and don't get me started on the obnoxiousness of those). We have plenty of laws out there already protecting people from unsafe conditions in public areas. This amendment is not about safety - it's about regulating the content and manner of speech.

And about regulating the use of one's own private property, another added affront that property-rights libertarians ought to be up in arms about.

Ben said...

OWM - The whole point of the Bill of Rights is that some individual freedoms are supposed to be beyond the reach of the majority. The message of this Amendment is this: if you exercise your rights in a manner that is unpopular enough, no measly Constitution will protect you.

The issues of safety you mention are a red herring. They are already covered by things like fire safety laws and personal injury lawsuits. The amendment would prevent someone who follows all the rules, takes all the safety precautions. It is aimed at nothing less than preventing people from expressing disrespect for this country in a particularly offensive manner.

The strength of our liberty can probably be best defined by how we tolerate offensive assholes. If someone wants to call a flag-burner and idiot, organize counter-protests, or - best of all - ignore the morons, I'm all for it. But to say disrespecting the country in an offensive manner is against the law BECAUSE it is offensive.....well that strikes to the core of free speech.

It's not so much that it would have an instant effect on my life (I have no plans to burn a flag any time soo....EVER). It's that it would so directly attack the principles behind the first amendment

NYCmark said...

You four are all NUTS. Seriously, Mr. Ben I've been reading some of your stuff and seriously take off the tin foil hat. You seem very smart and seem to know your stuff but the government is not out to get you or take away your rights. Jeff, I've like some of your writing but I'd really like to see you do more. Maybe you could put on a protest over this. Other White Meat, you are a idiot. You seem really smart but it seems you don't argue for what you actually believe you seem to argue the other side to just see if you can win a few points. Were you on a debate team in High School. Either way, you are a jackass, that gets his jollies off others reactions. Mike, face it sometimes you seem to only argue on the side that others choose. Maybe get an opinion of you own. Try reading something other that USA Today or watching CNN.

Now, all four of you need to go out and do something other then sit here and talk about this stuff.


Ben said...

Um, thanks for the constructive criticism, NYCmark. Has it ever occurred to you that maybe we ARE doing something about it? Jeff and I have both been active in local politics. (Can't speak for OWM and Mike, but that's their lives.) But the purpose of this blog is to discuss and debate. That's what we're doing.

Got an opinion about the flag burning amendment? Then please, by all means, contribute. Disagree with our arguments. But the ad hominem attacks are out of line.

other white meat said... Enough said. Get a life man.

NYCmark said...

I'm sorry for coming on way to strong. I was fired up over the remarks made earlier by you guys and took it to heart.

To answer your question I do disagree with the flag burning amendment. I think there are things that should be special to this country and the flag being one of them. I know you are going to go on and on about freedom of speech but the fact that our flag is laid on caskets, lifted by soliders, and flown in battle should be enough to say no we can't burn this. Lets be civil. Though I agree with a few points OWM(or whatever weird thing he likes to be called) I don't feel he's serious. Do you guys actually agree with anything the government is doing? Can they do no good with with you guys?

OWM, you wish you could live in NYC. Please don't attack it like that again. Where do you live that is so great and isn't "LOL"


Jeff said...

NYCMark -

Welcome to the blog. We welcome commentary from all sides, but please do try to keep the personal attacks to a minimum - we want an impassioned debate, but not a hurtful one. We here are often acerbic, but we strive for civility, so keep your invective aimed squarely at the arguments, not at their deliverers.

Anyway, on to the points you raise.

Are you in the service, or do you know anyone who is? If so, ask them/yourself what they're/you're fighting for. I'd bet you a good amount of money that most servicemen would say "freedom" or "love of country" or something like that. What they won't mention as a reason is "the flag."

Old Glory is not an end in itself. It is a symbol, and symbols must reference something. In the flag's case, it represents this country and all the freedoms we enjoy that make this country special. To undermine arguably our most important freedom in order to declare sacrosanct a symbol of that freedom (and a symbol that most Americans hold sacred anyway) is, in my opinion, absurd.

And allow me to criticize your rhetoric here: "I know you are going to go on and on about freedom of speech but the fact that our flag is laid on caskets, lifted by soliders, and flown in battle should be enough to say no we can't burn this." Here, you appear to frame the debate as if we are in favor of flag burning. We are not. The question is not "to burn or not to burn." The question is "to maintain the right to offensive political speech or to ban such speech." Watch out for this in future comments.

To address your final point: perhaps the government does some things right... but why bother with those? Should we be giving out little gold stars and saying "good job" every time the government does something right? No. We should expect the government to do right.

And when government fails us, when it encroaches on the freedoms that it's supposed to protect, when it sacrifices justice for expediency, when it favors the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and voiceless, when it fails to live up to the high ideals for which our nation is supposed to strive, then it is our right - nay, our duty as patriotic Americans - to arise and say, "This must not stand, for this is not the American way." And even if we merely shout into the bleakness of the back alleys of the blogosphere, we write anyway, for it is only through voices such as ours, ones that are dismissed as carping and negative, that this government and this nation will move forward.

Okay, rant over. Proceed with your lives.

NYCmark said...

"Should we be giving out little gold stars and saying "good job" every time the government does something right? No. We should expect the government to do right."

What a crock that was. Sir, even though the government is expected to do right, you should give credit when they do something good. What reason do they have to do right if everyone will only focus on the wrong? You couldn't be more wrong with that. How about you go live somewhere else if you hate this government so much? How about you try living in a 3rd world country where there is no freedom? No food, no wealth, no religion other than what they tell you. Why don't you go live in Africa, or North Korea, or Central America? Oh but I bet your a world traveler and know the outside. I bet you'll tell me how you went to Europe or Japan or something.

What I do find funny is that from reading past blogs you guys wrote, none of you have actually changed your minds on a subject. Are none of you open enough in your views to change? Oh, and OWM I'm waiting for your response. Where do you live that is so great?

Jeff said...

Mark -

For the most part, your argument makes no sense. Please elaborate further. It may help you to answer the following questions:

1) What's wrong with criticizing the government? When Congress or the administration screws up, shouldn't we call them on it?

2) Shouldn't the government want to do right because, well, it's the right thing to do, not because some talking head will say "good job, here's a cookie"?

And watch out for inflammatory prose that doesn't make an argument. The quality of your post would have been greatly improved if you had removed everything after "you couldn't be more wrong with that" and replaced it with further arguments. As it is, you wandered into meaningless statements that made no sense, and your point - which may be valid, I don't know - got lost.

I'm perfectly willing to change my mind. Just make a logical, sensible, well-thought-out argument for an alternative position.

Mike said...

Jeez, I don't visit for a full 24 hours and all of a sudden we have a discussion going.

For starters, Jeff, I think it's really unfair that your flag-burning post has 15 comments while mine has none. Not to mention your blog seems to attract more random people -- lest we forget the Farley post.

NYCMark, I echo Jeff's welcome, but also his request to keep the personal attacks to a minimum. Just because I read USA Today and watch CNN (and what do you watch, Fox News?), and just because Jeff and Ben and I operate from similar viewpoints on certain subjects doesn't mean I always agree with the popular consensus. I do have opinions of my own.

That having been said, I agree with you insofar as we do need to acknowledge when the government does something right in addition to yelling when they do (or in this case, are about to do) something wrong. At the same time, Jeff's right that we should expect them to do right. When they do so consistently enough, we don't acknowledge them with "gold stars"; we acknowledge them by re-electing them. Though I'm sure they wouldn't mind cookies.

I don't think NYCmark is saying we shouldn't call the government on it when they do something wrong. I think he's simply saying that it's as important to voice agreement when the government does something right. The point being, it's just as important to explain why you agree with one government action as why you disagree with another. If the only voices heard were always the voices of dissent, well, I don't know how to complete that sentence. But you get the idea.

NYCmark, the arguments about how in most other countries they don't have as much freedom as we do here are valid enough - but to me they merely reinforce that we should protect against the restriction of the freedoms granted to us by the Constitution. The fact that we are able to express our dissent freely, while in many countries we would be prosecuted for it, is a testament to the greatness of those freedoms.

NYCmark said...

There is nothing wrong with criticizing the governmnet. But that is all I've seen you guys do. Look back through your posts I haven't really seen you say "well that was a great idea" or something like that. Are you in the same mindset of newspapers and think that nobody will read your blog if you post goodnews when it comes to the government. If thats the case then hey I can understand that. I will ask how you would feel if your boss never said anything good to you. Everything was what you were doing wrong and such. Are we not the boss of our government. It is a government of the people, is it not? Shouldn't we show our respect for the difficult job they do?

Forgive me if I come off rash. Though, I'm not sure how my argument is flawed from the comments about you having never traveled to a country that isn't "free". Have you? Do you know what its like? Thats all I'm asking. Its easy to complain when you've never seen anything else. Just trying to get an idea about your guys history. If someone never grew up in the hood for instance but talked about how they were mad because they don't get the school funding they need for a better education then it would be easy to say "hey, get a clue. You have it made and you have nothing to really complain about. Go take the advantages given to you and run with it. Stop before you sound like a snob"(and no I'm not calling you snobs) You know, that kinda stuff.

Also looking back at some of the posts and response, every one of you have left the facts and got defensive at one point so excuse me if I did the same. I'm sure I'm not as educated as the four of you which makes writing down my argument a little harder then trying to speak it in person. Writing down my thoughts is not one of my strong points as you can see.

Can I point out one thing I have noticed. It seems when guys get pissed or mad at something you come back with a real humdinger of a word. Seriously, "ad hominem" WHO SPEAKS LIKE THAT? You guys are great.


NYCmark said...


after reading yours I have to agree with the 3rd world countrys remark and you almost hit with what I was saying but with that I was trying to say that sometimes we have to roll with the punches. We may lose a freedom point here but at the same time because of that we may pick up 2 there. Understand what I'm saying?

Oh and losing the right to burn a flag is not going to be the snowball to avalanche other rights. You have the right to freespeach until it insults others(hence why you can't really curse in public, which you can be arrested for, or slander someone) SO if I said that the flag means so much due to my familys history or something then why can't I say your slandering me by burning it?


OWM said...

I'm from NoVA actually. Lets see, I'ved lived in Japan for 3 years and have lived in Africa. I was at Ethiopia for a year. Got to visit a few others including going on safari in Kenya. Visited southern Kenya as well which we took an old style train ride to. I've been around the poor and know a thing or too about it.

As for the getting off on arguing with others...yes I have been known from time to time to argue on the other side just to see if I can prove a point. A lot of times on here though I'm usually a don't really care either way but if I see these guys getting a little too fired up over something I try to get them to at least consider stuff they may not have, if I'm right or wrong it doesn't matter to me.

I wasn't on a debate team in Highschool and I never went to college. My time in Africa kinda screwed me on that one. Long story none of your business, etc. My spelling should reflect that :-) As much as these guys can be on the extreme in their fight for less government at times or whatever they are doing you are on the extreme on the other side.

Jeff said...

Ok, now it makes sense. Thanks.

Perhaps our government should be recognized for being better than everyone else, but at the same time, better than everyone else isn't necessarily good enough. We are a nation of high ideals, with a government made up of people that often have a hard time living up to those ideals. I agree with you that a lot of the criticisms leveled at government officials are trivial ones - for example, Bush's sunglasses thing. This can often overshadow the more legitimate criticisms that I hope I'm airing here.

And I don't think I'm entirely negative - I did side with Dubya on the ports deal and on immigration, and I did put forth a congratulations on getting Zarqawi. I do, however, think we learn more from our mistakes than our failures, and thus believe that it's more important to point out where improvement is needed than it is to congratulate all the time.

OWM said...

well I have one for you Jeff. If we learn of our failures then couldn't this possibly be a good idea. They make this amd and discover its a bad idea. Change it back and come to understand that the american people now understand absolute freedom of speech and desire it. All the while they conduct this experiment with a rather minor thing. For real, who gives if we burn a flag or not. Same with the bible, its the words not the book.

OWM said...

Oh and guys, I think he got ya on the big words stuff. Sometimes I sit here and read the things you reply and grow tired of having to reach for the dictionary. So lets see thats a point for NYCmark bringing his total to -16, Ben 5, Jeff 7, Mike 0(try to get in the game man) OWM 8.

yeah and until Jeff gets his skinny butt up here and plays a round of golf with me he's going to stay a point behind.

Jeff said...

OWM - it could be a good thing in that regard. But this is a lesson we should have learned from the Alien and Sedition Acts, the World War I dissent crack-down, the McCarthy era... and quite frankly, I don't think most Americans really know about this amendment. I don't think most Americans will really care until the breach of freedom becomes big enough to affect them. Limitations on speech will have to reach McCarthy levels for most Americans to take notice, and I think that's a shame.

Mark - I think everyone should visit other countries and see what living without freedom is like. To me, a lot of the willingness to tolerate amendments such as the flag desecration amendment derives from taking freedom of speech for granted. Perhaps if people saw repressive societies first-hand, they wouldn't take our freedoms for granted and would be a little bit more vigilant in protecting them from even minor infringments such as this.

(I have been to Europe and Nepal, if you must know.)