Disrespecting the Flag



The American flag is a great and powerful sign. It symbolizes the American Revolution, that initial act of defiance to the unlawful tyranny of the British Parliament. It represents the brilliance of the framers of our system of government. It calls to mind the countless lives that have been lost in battle to defend, protect, and further one all-encompassing, dangerous, and revolutionary idea upon which our entire nation is based: liberty. Yet there are those in our country today who stand in fundamental opposition to this symbol, who spit in the face of those who have given their lives to defend it. I don’t say that they intend this by their actions. Like the Israelites who embraced the brazen serpent and forgot the reality for which it stood, these people embrace the flag as fetish or talisman while simultaneously committing treason against the very principle the flag stands for. This is why we cannot allow our flag to be disrespected by those who, like our current president-elect, wish to enact civil punishments for flag burning.

By now, everyone on the internet has read Donald Trump’s tweet from Tuesday, but in case you missed it here it is:

“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”

Now on the face of it, many patriots who love America might agree. “Yeah, that’s right! If they hate America so much, why do they live here anyway? If they want to burn our flag, they can find another place to live that they like better.” I have more than once seen the sentiment that it is wrong that people in our country should use the very freedoms granted by the government to attack that very government. I understand that. I see the visceral reaction to people burning the flag. But there is one very dangerous assumption hidden in that line of reasoning.

Our founding fathers did not believe that the government granted rights to anyone. The Declaration of Independence makes it clear that our founders believed it to be self-evident, needing no proof at all, that God has given the right of liberty to men and that governments only exist to protect the God-given rights that men already have. Further, when a government endangers those rights, it is the right of the people to rise up and form a new government. Imagine a government that exists only to preserve the life and liberty of the citizens, that has no other function than to defend freedom and preserve life. That is what the American flag stands for.

Flag burning may be disrespectful; it may be deplorable; it may be the most irreverent, arrogant, wrong-headed, unpatriotic action imaginable. Let it be all those things. But as soon as you talk about putting people in jail for burning a piece of cloth, regardless of what the cloth is or what it stands for, then you are laying an axe to the very foundation of everything our flag means. In burning a flag, assuming the flag is the lawful property of the person doing the burning, is anyone’s life being endangered? Is anyone’s liberty being threatened? No? Then the government, if it wishes to be that free republic for which the flag stands, has no business prohibiting or punishing the flag burner. To do so is treason against the principles upon which our nation is founded.

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