It appears to be that time of the year again ...

Apparently Bill Frist has decided that constitutional ammendments against flag-burning and gay marriage are vital to national well-being. Speaking on Faux News, Frist was asked:

HOST: Are gay marriage and flag burning the most important issues the Senate can be addressing in June of 2006?

Below the fold, I give Frist's reply and some comments.

Frist replied:

FRIST: Let me tell you what the agenda is real quick. Secure America's safety here at home. I mentioned supporting our troops overseas, making sure we pass that supplemental bill, making sure we tighten down our borders. securing America, a healthier America, so we'll continiue to -

HOST: All right. But ...

FRIST: Let me tell you, right now there's no prioritization there. Securing America'' values. I hope tomorrow and today as people see that American flag, and I'm going to Arlington cemetery tomorrow and I'm going to see that flag waving on every grave over there. When you look at that flag and you tell me that right now people in this country are saying it'' okay to desecrate that flag and to burn it and to not pay respect to it, is that important to our values as a people when we've got 130,000 people fighting for our freedom and liberty today? That is important. It may not be important here in Washington where people say, well, it's political posturing and all, but it's important to the heart and soul of the American people.

Now, if you ask me, what the Republicans are doing here are looking for two issues that will distract people from what's really important, and once again cloak themselves are the party that stands for "American values".

Last June, the House proposed a amendment against flag burning. I wrote the following then (note the guest appearance by that fine exponent of "American values", Randy Cunningham).

I see that the House - having I guess solved all the real problems in this country - yesterday voted (286/130) to support an amendment to ban flag-burning. The proposed one-line amendment to the Constitution reads, “The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States,” and is designed to overturn a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in 1989 that flag burning is a protected free-speech right.

Asinine statement by Randy (Duke) Cunningham (R-Calif):

Ask the men and women who stood on top of the Trade Center. Ask them and they will tell you: pass this amendment.

More insightful statement by Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), whose district actually includes the site of the former World Trade Center:

If the flag needs protection at all, it needs protection from members of Congress who value the symbol more than the freedoms that the flag represents.

[Comment added May 28 2006: Certainly the past year's revelations about wire-tapping etc makes Nadler's point even more poigniant]

Reed Cartwright makes the following point:

Desecration of the flag occurs everyday and not by anti-government protestors. I know of very few people out side the military who know and follow proper flag etiquette. The people most likely to consider themselves “True Patriots” desecrate the flag by not following proper etiquette. … However, you won’t see politicians ever trying to criminalize people who do these things because they really don’t care about the flag. What they care about is people who are vocally oppose their politics.

Now I’m not a citizen of this country, but I have chosen to make it my home for the last twelve years. I also grew up in a country where, because of the “Troubles” in the North of Ireland, burning of the Irish tricolor by Protestant extremists was an almost daily sight on television. And you know what? It didn’t bother me. What’s more, in Ireland the flag is not used as a decoration on t-shirts, cars, towels, hats, outside car dealerships, etc etc. It is displayed at state and civic events. Reed is correct - people here, and politicians in particular - don’t care about the flag in any meaningful way. And they certainly don’t care about free speech.

[Comment added May 28th 2006: My next-door neighbour, a self-identifying Christian (Promise Keeper), Republican-voting, vet, is flying three flags this weekend; a Marine Corp flag, a Christian flag, and the Starts and Stripes. The Christian flag is flying above the Stars and Stripes. As Wikipedia notes "No other flag ever should be placed above it. The flag of the United States is always the first flag raised and the last to be lowered." Can I argue that my Republican neighbor has perfectly made my point above for me?]


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In their annual drive to pander to the hyper-emotional right, the House has yet again passed an amendment to ban flag burning. The award for the most shameless demagoguery so far: "Ask the men and women who stood on top of the (World) Trade Center," said Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, R-Calif. "Ask…
Eugene Volokh has an interesting post about the comparison between flag burning and the Muhammed caricatures. I agree with him that anyone who thinks that there should be an amendment banning flag burning but supports freedom of expression to print caricatures of Muhammed that inflame Muslims is…

Were your neighbor a Navy chaplain holding services, the "services being held" pennant may fly above the Stars and Stripes. I believe that is the only exception accepted in usual sources.

The U.S. Flag Code is quite specific as to sins against the flag, and frankly, almost all displays since 9-11 violate them. For example, it is inappropriate to fly the flag from an automobile except on a pole attached to the right front fender. You will almost never see a flag displayed that way -- you'll see it flown from antennas (a double no-no), on decals, on bumper stickers, with letters written over the flag, on standards stuck on windows, all forms of technical disrespect to America and the flag.

We could use an amendment to the code to make it legal to make flag shirts, to make it legal to paint flags on motorcycles, to make it legal to put a flag on the back of a denim jacket. An amendment to the Code might also make it legal to fly the flag from the mirror of a big truck, or duct-tape it to the back, as the Texas National Guard did in the 4th of July parade in Duncanville, two years ago (and probably in countless other Texas towns).

And those massive flags carried on to football fields? When displayed horizontally, it's against the flag code. Tell it to the NFL (did you see the Superbowl?).

But we don't need penalties for those who protest with the flag. By far, under the flag code, most desecration is done by people who argue for an amendment to prevent desecration by people who might disagree with them. The flag should protect all such political opinion, and not try to make one side illegal in a salient dispute.

Here, check it out at a flag-friendly site:

By Ed Darrell (not verified) on 28 May 2006 #permalink

We all know darn well that if this thing passes (unlikely, as it is really all about posturing) that they will only go after those people they disapprove of, not the right-wing desecrators mentioned above.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the US Code defines the US Flag. While I don't think I'd really consider burning a US Flag, I wouldn't have any trouble burning a red, white, and
purple flag (which, by US Code definition, is not a US Flag). But it would get the same effect, and would also do a nice job of burdening the courts with more crap.

While I also wouldn't consider burning the flag on a normal day, the absolute moment that flag burning is made illegal I shall purchase and burn as many flags as possible.

The whole idea of making it a crime to desecrate the flag is so stupid, for so many different reasons, that it is hard to know where to begin criticizing it. But, to begin with a simple one: What is "The American Flag"? If an 8 year old draws one on paper, is that "An American Flag"? If he then crumbles up the paper and discards it, has he desecrated the flag. What if we pull his drawing out, flatten it, examine it, and discover that it had only 12 stripes, or only 49 stars, is he then exculpated?. What if a college art student draws one with correct number of stars and stripes and correct proportions, is that "An American Flag"? Or is it just a picture of a flag? What is necessary for it to be a "flag"? Does it have to be made of cloth, what kind of cloth? And on and on. At some point logic must take over and recognize that the flag is a symbol that represents a whole set of ideas - that destroying a symbol does not destroy the ideas.

Just ask Bill Frist to stay as far away from my Father's grave as he possibly can when he visits Arlington.

The old man just might come back to take Frist down a bit.

By sixteenwords (not verified) on 28 May 2006 #permalink

Back in the days of Nixon and the Hardhats vs. Yipppies, flag waving was just as popular as today. I made up a bumper sticker to say

"Our Flag--pray for it
Not to it"

To be kept in mind while reciting the Prayer of Allegiance.

There aren't many things I agree with Jehovah's Witnesses about, but this is one - the rejection of idolatry.

By natural cynic (not verified) on 28 May 2006 #permalink

While I don't think I'd really consider burning a US Flag, I wouldn't have any trouble burning a red, white, and
purple flag (which, by US Code definition, is not a US Flag).

I would: burning flag-like objects would offend many people I would have no wish to offend in addition to some I would. But yeah, in addition to being asinine, such an amendment is also pretty ineffectual. Scalzi has quite a few more "not quite the American Flag" ideas.

By Andrew Wade (not verified) on 29 May 2006 #permalink