Once again an amendment to the Constitution is being proposed that would prohibit anyone from desecrating the flag. The reason that it is in amendment form is that the Supreme Court has ruled on two separate occasions that laws restricting someone from defiling the flag are unconstitutional, that this action is a form of free speech.
I'm not exactly happy with anyone destroying this countrys flag. It would seem to me that there are other ways of showing your opposition to some policy. Usually this type of behavior is associated with radicals in some far off country who doesn't like us because of the clothes we wear or what beer we drink. Yet there is a small group of people in this country who from time to time will burn the flag to protest something that our government is either doing now or will be doing in the near future. Everytime they do geers and hollers go up from veterans groups and others who see it as a slap in the face to the sacrifices that have been made to keep this country free. Soon after, Congress swings into action and the race to gather votes is on.
Ironically, this same action takes place whenever Congress begins to propose some new piece of legislation. From the moment it is hinted that a bill will be introduced the lobbying groups go into action; money begins to flow into campaign coffers and the phones ring off the hook. All this to try and persuade the official to vote one way or another.
At first blush these two events would seem very distinct. In reality, they are very similar. In both instances a person or group of people are excersing their right under the First Amendment to a form of speech. I realize that the concept of a burning flag as a form of free speech is difficult for some to grasp , especially considering the significance of that which is being burned, but let me try to explain in laymans terms the legal reasoning behind it.
Speech, as most of us think, is a verbal response. Someone asks you a question, you hear the words and respond. That is speech. The spoken word. However, what about when someone asks for a show of hands in response to a proposal? No word is spoken but the meaning is clear. All those in favor of what is being proposed raise their hands and their intentions are known.
What about someone who is deaf? Having never heard a sound in their life, assuming they have been deaf from birth, they have no concept of the spoken word. Instead, they rely on hand gestures to communicate their intentions. One would have to know how to interpret those gestures but once the "code" is understood you can have a jolly conversation.
Speaking of code, what about the old standby Morse Code? That is certainly a form of speech even though it too is in a coded manner. Again, you would need to understand how to interpret this code but once you do you can understand the "speech" which is being transmitted. Another form of code is secret code such as is used by intelligence agencies the world over. Letters and numbers are arranged in a particular order and again one must know how to interpret or decipher this code to understand the message.
One of the most common forms of speech is letters and postcards. When you compose a letter you are indicating your wishes or thoughts without using the spoken word. Even though you are not physically present to express these wishes your meaning is clear (hopefully), just as it is when using a form of code.
So how are flag burning and political contributions a form of free speech? In both instances actions are used to convey the meaning. Instead of simply coming out and saying which candidate or party you support, your contribution expresses your wish. Again, you are not physically present to express this wish (not usually at least) yet your actions convey a clear meaning; you are supporting this candidate(s) or party. Flag burning is a similar action. One need not articulate why they are burning the flag but the message is clear nonetheless; you are unhappy with the government.
This is not to say that I agree with the act itself, only that I can understand how it can be construed as act of free speech. The current and past legislation which tries to outlaw such acts, however, runs the risk of controlling ones thought. If we say that burning the flag is wrong because of X, then why not say that some other form of free speech is also not allowed? There is a difference between not allowing someone to shout fire in a crowded theater and someone burning a flag.
Instead of trying to outlaw the act of burning a flag we should instead be proud that we live in a country where such action, no matter how horrible to watch, is allowed. We take our freedoms, especially the freedom to speak out, very seriously. To deny others the right to speak out in a manner of their choosing would not be a validation of the greatness of our country but rather an indication that we value our own freedom more than that of others. If we restrict the rights of others to express themselves, who is to say that our own right will not someday be restricted?
As the saying goes, "I may not like what you have to say but I will defend your right to say it."