A conservative news and views blog.

Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Burning Anger and Flagging Spirits

The flag burning amendment fell short by one vote, so this issue will again be pushed to the future. There is an endless argument (even among conservatives) about the proper course to take regarding this, and we`ll never act in any fashion without a consensus on the right. What course should we take?

On one side of this issue are the liberals, the civil libertarians, and some traditional conservatives who oppose making new laws against burning Old Glory. This side believes in the right to be offensive, and that the symbolism of the flag does not merit the real exercise of governmental authority to punish real people. America is nothing, the thinking goes, if not about the right to act as one chooses provided no-one else is injured by your behavior, and a law against flag burning is tantamount to a law against free speech or the free exercise of religion.

On the other side of the debate are the traditional conservatives, the Reagan Democrats, the working class not so Reagan Democrats, etc. who believe that flag burning is an act of utter disrespect for the Republic, and should be punished. This view says that the burning of the flag is equivalent to shouting ``fire`` in a crowded theater-it is an act of Mayhem which indeed DOES injure other Americans, and as a result should be punishable by law. We punish vandalism, don`t we? We punish people for rowdiness, driving too fast, public drunkenness, public urination, etc. According to this line of reasoning, there is no sensible argument against punishing flag-burning.

Rush Limbaugh has been arguing that the matter is an attempt to rebalance the branches of government, and that the movement for a flag-burning amendment is a matter of redress via Constitutional means. Rush thinks this is a matter for Federalism, and that the Constitution should be amended so as to put the regulation of flag burning into State, rather than Federal, hands. He may be right, but I would prefer this rebalancing to be done for something more serious-abortion, perhaps.

Also, I don`t like the precedent set here; if we start amending the Constitution to repair the damage done by liberal activist judges, where do we stop? Do we create a Bill of Wrongs, a series of amendments to circumvent judicial myopia and overreach? The Constitution will grow ponderously large, and will start to resemble that Frankenstein`s monster the E.U. put together!

I hold a middle ground view on this issue; I believe that Americans (not foreigners in this country) have a free-speech right to burn the flag (just as southern-Americans have a free speech right to wave the Confederate battle flag) but that there are some serious caveats. I believe that, if done in a large enough crowd, it should be punishable under mayhem statutes-especially if it incites violence. I further believe that it should not be permissible on public grounds (since we ALL pay for those grounds)and that fire statutes should apply. Finally, I offer you this; the United States Supreme Court has ruled that assault is permissible under certain circumstances. There are ``fighting words``, exercises of free speech designed to enrage. Racial epithets, for example, have been ruled to be fighting words. This leads to justifiable assault, and the party to be charged in such a case is the provocateur, not the enraged assaulter.

Flag burning is an example of ``fighting words`` if ever than were one. By showing such contempt for the nation which guarantees their rights to be jackasses, the flag burner has lost, in my opinion, the right to protection by the law, and should a flag burner be assaulted THEY should be the ones charged with a crime-not the justifiably infuriated bystander.

How many flags will be burned if angry mobs impose justice? I suspect the courage of the anti-American creeps will quickly evaporate. None of this requires amending the Constitution, or creating new laws-except to clear the way for the implementation of the Supreme Court`s own ruling.

Of course, the Left will fight this tooth-and-nail, and will fall back on their old glory days, comparing it to lynching and vigilantism. (What the Left has failed to mention is that lynching and vigilantism started because of repressive and corrupt government which forced the post-Civil War society to act against evil men, since Northern policy was to punish the South by giving criminals a pass. Only later did it become a tool of repression.) It would be a fine joke on those old Lefties to use their own positions against them.

I don`t expect my proposal to be advocated by anyone in a position to advance it, however, and so my middle-course will doubtlessly fade into that good night. We`re going to have this argument for a long, long time to come, I fear.

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