Tuesday, July 05, 2005

In all this talk about an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban burning the flag, one factoid I've heard again and again (and again) is that burning the flag is the official way to dispose of one that's too old and worn for use. Curious, I looked that up and something occurred to me.

Here's the relevant lines from that VFW page:
Suggested Procedures for Disposing of a Faded, Worn Flag... 3. Place the flag on the fire.

Now, The First Amendment states, in part, "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech..." Multiple judicial rulings have shown that clause only applies to individuals (not corporations, for example, or else "truth in advertising" laws would be unconstitutional), and that laws restricting freedom of speech can be made as long as the speech's content is primarily malicious and/or would have direct harmful effects clearly outweighing its benefits. And the First Amendment doesn't guarantee a forum for whatever you want to say, it only forbids the government from getting involved.

Since this is the First Amendment, I assume that freedom of speech and the other clauses of the amendment are among the most important principles of the country, right? Speech, worship, assembly, appealing to the government for help - these are really basic parts of almost every culture in history, and almost the first thing the founders of this country put on paper was a guarantee that the individual would have the freedom to exercise and take part in them however he or she wanted.

A couple weeks ago an amendment to the Constitution has been passed by the House of Representatives restricting freedom of speech, and resolutions supporting it (nonbinding so far, as I understand it, but still) have been passed by all 50 states. And this is a type of speech which is by itself completely harmless, practiced by individuals often in efforts to "petition the government for a redress of grievances." Not only that, but it's completely unnecessary - how often do people burn flags? Four times in the past year? (Anyone want to bet the last incident on that list was motivated by this amendment? Any takers?) I realize it's hard to come right out and say "I support burning the flag," but did any of those lawyers and politicians in the House even know what freedom of speech is? Even if they do, do they care?

Suggested Procedures for Disposing of a Faded, Worn Flag... 3. Place the flag on the fire.

Q.E.D. all I'm saying.

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