Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Burning the Flag Bill and Other Free Speech

Today, I must write something that, deep inside I am conflicted about, but, also deep down, I realize that I must defend because I believe in this country and in the tenets of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

For several years, there has been a discussion about making flag burning, specifically the flag of the United States, illegal. Today, the house passed a bill by a wide majority that makes this activity illegal and is sending it to the Senate.

As much as I find the practice of burning our flag to be hateful and reprehensible, I must strongly disagree with this bill as it violates the tenets of the First Amendment guaranteeing the right to free speech.

Before anyone reading this flies off the handle, let me explain. This belief by me is not because of some protester screaming that they have the right, the ACLU or simply trying to interpret the First Amendment too broadly.

Amendment One

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

No where does it say that the right to burn a flag is protected in specific language. ON the other hand, there is no language set out in the original consitution that prohibits it. But, the things that I find most compelling against making any such law is "congress shall make no law respecting...or abridging the freedom of speech...and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances".

Why did our founding fathers write this First Amendment? Was it simply because they were very smart and thought this was a way to insure the people held the government in check and accountable? This was a reason, but it had historical precedent, even in the short time before they wrote this.

During the American Revolution and just prior to, the citizens of the American colonies tried to make their voices heard to the appointed governors and King George. They wrote letters and news articles and, eventually, they assembled to protest the English government's activities including such things as the famous Boston Tea Party, the equally famous Boston Massacre. Thomas Paine and many others wrote pamphlets denouncing the activities of the crown and it's representatives.

On several occassions, as the rhetoric heated up, effigies of the king were burned, flags were burned, other activities were undertaken to show their displeasure with the British Government.

In return, the British would arbitrarily imprison people for "acts of sedition against the crown" which included the above acts. If pamphlateers were arrested, they were lucky not to be hanged.

Our forefathers knew this. They had been persecuted for seeking redress with their government of the time and, the only way they could get it's attention without open rebellion (which was soon to come since the government ignored them), was to take extreme actions including burning the British flag and the king in effigy.

Therefore, as painful and as disgusting as I find the act, I cannot with any good conscience, support any act or bill that diminishes this right, the first amendment.

Amendment 9

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

I would prefer, of course, that people simply love this country like I do and respect the flag that represents the freedoms that are given by living in this great country.

That would be too much to ask.

However, as one military motto states, "This we will defend" and I defend with all vigor the Constitution of the US, the Amendments thereof and all guarantees provided and implied.

Therefore, I cannot defend nor support any law that would "disparage" those rights that are given and retained by the people, in particular, the right to free speech, up to and including the burning of the flag.

Islamic Thinker's Society LGF

You've probably heard about them on the TV. According to the article:

On the evening of July 11, 2004, Kristine Withers walked down 37th Avenue, a main drag in Jackson Heights, Queens, and passed what had become a familiar sight: a group of tables set up on the sidewalk by the Islamic Thinkers Society, a local group of militant Islamists. On the tables, copies of the Koran and books espousing the group’s strict religious beliefs shared space with tracts on Zionism, pamphlets on the dangers of homosexuality, and signs bearing messages like “Your Terrorists Are Our Heroes.”

According to the rest of the article, these men allegedly advocate "peaceful change", believe that America should be destroyed, peacefully, and become an Islamic country.

Now, at first glance, one might wondered why these men have not been arrested already. Well, quite frankly, they haven't done anything illegal. Wrong, reprehensible, disgusting, stupid, yes. Illegal? No.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of idiots running around this country advocating destruction, secession, talking about Zionists, the dangers of homosexuality, etc and they aren't all Muslims. Even the hatefull KKK has the right to free speech. So do these guys.

However, just like the KKK, I imagine that these groups are being monitored, as they should, for activities that give direct material aid in the form of money, logistics or personnel to the enemy.

Let me also remind us of historical facts. During the Revolutionary War, there were people who were outright Royalists and gave physical aid to the enemy, but there were just as many people who were simply vocal supporters and believed that we should stay within the British Empire. During the Civil War, there were people living in the North that believed the Southern States had a right to secede and did not support the war. They spoke, but did not give physical aid. During WWII, the reprehensible and disgusting American Nazi Party that went so far as to wear brown suits, swastikas and give the "sieg Heil" salute.

This was all, bizarrely, but honestly, protected free speech. However, what these groups could rely on was that they would be monitored, infiltrated and destroyed if they did actually give physical comfort to the enemy, commit an actual crime or participate direcly in the harming of citizens or property.

That's my expectations.

Frankly, I'm not scared of these punks. They are almost laughable if they imagine they can change this country. However, if they convince others to take action against this country from within or do so personally, then I believe that, as they are American citizens, they should be charged with treason and treated accordingly.

How do we combat reprehensible free speech?

Well, we've been doing it on the blogs and in person for a long time now. Basically, we combat it with more free speech, better free speech and ideas. We confront it for the stupidity that it is. Peacefully, but with vigor.

Now, where is the Protest Warriors when you need them?


Kris, Seattle said...

Hi Kat:

Well occasionally we agree, and this time we most strongly agree.

What I don't understand is how a majority in the House could have approved this today and from what I've read, it might just pass the Senate.

Since it will only take 38 states approval to pass, I gotta say I'm a bit worried. Historically, liberals are the ones who usually champain personal liberty issues.

It doesn't take much analysis to look at the last election results to know how limited the number of states are that have liberal majorities. Since I can't see any scenario where liberals suddenly decide to move to the Bible Belt, we're going to need a whole bunch of Bush supporters to step away from the party position on this one. And having spent the last 18 months arguing these issues on the conservative leaning Iraqi blogs, well, yep, I'm worried. Its a stubborn bunch to say the least.

So, your post gives me a bit of encouragement, and I hope others in the Bush camp can see through the political rhetoric and charges of treason and supporting the terrorists and all the crap that's gonna be flying in their direction, and just stand against this issue on principal. It won't be easy. Us liberals are used to be called unpatriotic. I'm worried that the peer pressure on folks not used to that kind of abuse may be too much. What do you think?

Kat said...


I believe in all the rights guaranteed, without disparagement.

There is nothing wrong with saying that violating free speech is wrong, nor is it unpatriotic.

But, you understand, I believe in every right, including, without change or disparagement, the right to bear arms.

There is nothing more patriotic than supporting the constitution. People take oaths to that fact.

I don't support it's corruption nor laws that limit rights guaranteed either written or implied.

As for "unpatriotic" speech, there is that. I once thought that such speech was treason, but it is more like sedition and we no longer have sedition laws. Thus, it is only a crime to give actual support to the enemy and I believe some come very close to this line.

when we are at war, reasonable debate must be heard, but we should never give the enemy propaganda for their mills and there are some civilian and elected official, that do.

I will not fail to call them on it.

Kris, Seattle said...

You may have read more into one of my past comments than I wrote. When I advocated that parents with both children and guns in the same house should be required to use gun locks or be held accountable if a child uses that gun improperly, I never meant to imply that I don't support the second ammendment. I absolutely believe in the right to bear arms. I'm not sure our founding fathers meant that to include automatic assault weapons, but thats another topic for some other day.

So do you think there will be enough liberal Bush supporters to stop this nonsense once it reaches the red states for ratification?

DaKruser said...

We can only hope. I might well be drawn to near physical violence if I saw an American citizen burn the flag, but I would defend to my death his/her right to do so. Kat is right. There should be NOTHING dearer than our Constitution and the Rights they guarantee, including a cloth flag. Would it upset me? Yes. Would I vehemently argue with the person who was doing it? Yes. Would every word that came out of their mouths for the rest of their lives be suspect? Yes. Do they have the right to exhibit their utter disgust with the policies of the US through this outrage? Yes.
The US Constitution and most especially, the Bill of Rights MUST NEVER again say you CAN"T do this or that. They tried once, and it was about alcohol. It failed miserably too because the Bill of Rights is about what you CAN do and the Gov't can never stop you from doing it.
Let us hope that the Centerist Republicans and Democrats that voted for Bush remember those things.

Kris, Seattle said...

Yep, the Bill of Rights is about protecting the rights of the citizens. Not protecting the image of the government. Amendments have always been to give additional rights to the people. Never to restrict them.

An article I read yesterday said that there are 65 Senators who have said they will support this. They need 67 to pass it. I fear what may happen if this gets past the Senate. Surely I will need to be sedated.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's any accident that the First Amendment was the FIRST amendment. Free speech is essential to a free society.
It's tragic that so many lawmakers abandon democratic principles in order to pander to a constituency that thinks the Bill of Rights is subversive.
And while we're on the subject of symbolic actions, I noticed that today's free software offerings on included the complete Koran in Arabic. I downloaded it just so I could drag the file to the trash can.

Cranky Yankee said...

Well put, Kat. I won't shamelessly plug but I said the same thing in a different way today.

Kat said...

I wrote my Senator on this. And, one of my favorite conservatives was for it, but honestly, most of the conservative republicans I know have already written up their own posts saying it's wrong.

Of course, many of them are closer to libertarianism, but that's how it is.

Even LGF, not exactly a bastion of "love the liberals", came out and said the same thing with almost an overwhelming 90% of commnts agreeing.

However, other polls show something like 75% of those polled believe that the flag should be protected.

What are we to do about those?