Yesterday before I left for work I got into a somewhat heated debate with someone on Facebook over the right of a person to burn the American flag in protest. While I believe it is in poor taste to do so, I also believe it is a person’s right to do it so long as the flag is their own personal property and not the property of someone else.
After I got home from work I did my normal routine before retiring to bed, only to find that I was unable to fall asleep. For close to 5 hours I lay there, tossing and turning, pondering the question of why people become so enraged over others who protest by desecrating the flag or refusing to stand during the playing of the national anthem. What you are about to read is the culmination of that process.
Although there is no law, (at least none that I’m aware of), that criminalizes the act of kneeling or remaining seated during the playing of the National Anthem, there is a law which makes it a crime to desecrate, mutilate, or trample upon the flag of the United States. That law is found in 18 USC § 700, and states, “Whoever knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any flag of the United States shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.”
Yet, in Texas vs. Johnson (1989), the US Supreme Court held that due to the First Amendment’s protection of free speech it is unconstitutional for a government to make it a crime to prohibit the desecration of the flag due the fact that doing so is considered symbolic speech.
I have both seen and heard people say that to kneel during the National Anthem, or to burn the flag dishonors those who have served, or given their lives in defense of this country. Then, during my debate on Facebook yesterday, one person said that they would stomp the ass of anyone who burnt a flag.
As I said, I believe that those who burn the flag, or kneel during the National Anthem, may be exhibiting poor taste, or a lack of good judgment; yet I fully support their right to do so. If all those who have either served, or given their life for this country, did so to defend what America stands for, then freedom of speech and freedom of expression is one of the things they were fighting to defend.
That freedom to express yourself, no matter how distasteful or offensive others may find it, is one of the things that distinguish America as the land of the free; and to deny someone that right simply because you disagree with their actions, or to threaten them with physical violence because you disagree with those actions, only shows me that you truly don’t understand what freedom of speech really is.
Now all this causes me to wonder what the American Flag, the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance mean to people. What I’m getting at is this; for people to become so angered when others show disrespect by not reciting the pledge, by kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem, or by burning the flag, those things must represent something very important to people. So what is it that they represent to you?
Seeing as how this is a one-sided conversation – me speaking to you – I am unable to know how you respond to that query. I can, however, give you my thoughts on the matter.
First off let me begin by saying that the flag itself is an image that represents something; while the Pledge and the National Anthem are words that show either your allegiance to that flag, or in some way exhibit your patriotism and loyalty to your country.
From what I understand the 13 stripes are representative of the original 13 Colonies while the current number of States comprising the Union is represented by the 50 stars on the flag. Then the red stripes are supposed to represent bravery and valor; the white stripes represent purity and innocence, and the blue background behind the stars represent vigilance, perseverance and justice.
Now I want you to think about something. Is the flag representative of our country, or is our country representative of the qualities that the flag supposedly represents? That may sound confusing, so let me try to explain what I’m asking.
If the colors of the flag are representative of the qualities of purity, innocence, valor, bravery, vigilance, perseverance and justice, then if those qualities are not exhibited by the people of this country, then is the flag an accurate representation of America today?
While I may be alone in thinking this way, the flag is not so much a representation of our country; rather it is supposed to be representative of the principles this country was founded upon. Therefore, if this country no longer upholds those principles, isn’t the neglect of the American public an act of disrespect for what the flag supposedly stands for? If you disrespect those principles, aren’t you also disrespecting the flag itself? Then why the outrage when someone takes it one step further and steps upon or burns the flag itself?
If you ask me, if one does not respect and defend the principles this country was founded upon they are showing as much, if not more, disrespect than those who actually desecrate or burn the flag.
Now let’s take a few minutes, (maybe more), to discuss the other two things that get people all hot and bothered; refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and kneeling or remaining seated during the National Anthem.
The Pledge of Allegiance begins by stating that the flag represents a Republic, not a democracy, a REPUBLIC. So what is a republic anyway? Depending upon where you look a republic can be a group of sovereign entities who then elect others to act on their behalf, or a single country where the supreme power resides with the people who then elect representatives to govern on their behalf; both definitions including the fact that the rule of law determines what powers those elected representatives can exercise on behalf of the component members. But then the Pledge turns around and says, “… one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
First of all it must be noted that the Pledge of Allegiance was written by a Socialist, Francis Bellamy, in 1892, and the words ‘under God’ were not added until 1932 when President Eisenhower signed a bill adding those words to the Pledge.
Now before I continue I want you to think long and hard about why the government got involved in amending a pledge that was written and introduced into the public awareness by an individual. The reason I ask is because of that one word – nation; which is also the root of the word national, as in National Anthem.
If you stand up and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or sing along to the National Anthem, what are you saying by doing so? You are pledging loyalty and obedience to the nation, or national authority. But America did not begin as a nation; it began as a confederacy of independent and sovereign States.
If you were to read the Articles of Confederation you would find a couple of interesting points; that is if you actually thought about what you were reading. First off nowhere in the Articles of Confederation is the power of taxing the people or the States given to Congress; that power did not come until they ratified the Constitution.
Secondly, for any proposal from Congress to become law it was required that it be unanimously accepted by the legislatures of each and every State. The Congress established by the Articles of Confederation was only to act upon the States as political entities, and only when the measures they recommended were agreed to by a unanimous vote of each State’s Legislature.
Finally, all power which was not expressly given to the Congress was retained by the States; meaning that ironclad restrictions were imposed upon what the Congress could recommend, and if even one State did not like the proposals sent to them by the Congress they could block that proposal from becoming law; giving each State, no matter its size, an equal say in the government.
Then along comes James Madison and his plan to subvert and subjugate the States to a strong centralized government. The delegates to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 were sent there by their States for the purpose of coming up with proposals to amend the Articles of Confederation; not throwing them in the trash heap and replacing them with an entirely new system of government – yet that is exactly what they did.
Even before the convention convened, Madison outlined his plan in a letter to George Washington, (who agreed with Madison’s plan), “Conceiving that an individual independence of the States is utterly irreconcileable with their aggregate sovereignty; and that a consolidation of the whole into one simple republic would be as inexpedient as it is unattainable, I have sought for some middle ground, which may at once support a due supremacy of the national authority, and not exclude the local authorities wherever they can be subordinately useful.”
Does the word subordinate mean anything to you; subordinate means to be lower in rank or position to someone, or something else. If you work for someone you are subordinate to them; they give you order and you obey them. Therefore, Madison’s plan was to severely diminish the power held by the States. In fact, had Madison’s original proposal been accepted by the convention the State authority would have been diminished even more than it was by the final document we call the Constitution.
How does all this tie into the National Anthem and the Pledge? Well it all boils down to whether we have a NATIONAL form of government, or a FEDERAL one. I could go into a great amount of detail explaining the difference between the two forms, but let it suffice to say that in a federal form the power held by the central government can only be exerted upon the States, or component parts of the Union, while in a national form the power exercised by the central government applies directly to the people.
In Federalist 45 James Madison describes, what appears to be, a federalist form of government when he says, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected.
The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”
Yet does that sound anything like the government we have today; with its sphere of power extending to almost every aspect of our lives, our liberty, and our property? Patrick Henry foretold of the dangers of adopting the proposed Constitution; how it would create a consolidated Union with very little power reserved to the States. He made it clear how this was to be accomplished when he said, “The fate of this question and of America may depend on this: Have they said, we, the States? Have they made a proposal of a compact between states? If they had, this would be a confederation: It is otherwise most clearly a consolidated government. The question turns, Sir, on that poor little thing-the expression, We, the people, instead of the States, of America.”
Yet, for awhile, there were those who strove to restrain the government; to keep it as close to a federal form as possible. Hints of their efforts can be found throughout the writings of those who opposed the things the government was attempting to do.
For instance, when John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, Vice President Jefferson wrote the Kentucky Resolutions in opposition to them. In these resolutions Jefferson states, “Resolved, That the several States composing the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their General Government…”
Now I know people frequently read things without giving the wording of them much thought; but this is one instance where it is crucial that you do not do that. First off, Jefferson makes no mention of the people, rather he clearly states that the several States are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to the government.
And secondly, I purposefully replaced a word in the above sentence just so I could expound upon it further here. Jefferson uses the word ‘their’ to describe the government, meaning it was established to act upon them as political entities, not the people. This clearly shows that, at least in 1798, there were those who still felt that the government created by the Constitution was of a federal nature, not a national one.
So, when you honor the flag, recite the Pledge, or sing along to the NATIONal Anthem, are you pledging your loyalty to the nation and its national form of government, or are you pledging your loyalty to the principles that were held by those who originally established America as 13 independent and sovereign States?
Is your loyalty to the images and songs of a nation, or is it to the principles this country was founded upon? And if it is to those principles America was founded upon, how can you, with a clear conscience, support the government in its current state – regardless of which political party is in control of it?
I think far too many people in this country believe that patriotism is exhibited by their flying the flag, reciting the Pledge, and singing the National Anthem…oh, and paying your taxes and voting as well.
To me, patriotism is supporting and defending the principles upon which our country was established. If you support a government that can tax you to fund things that the government was never authorized to do, if you can support a government that deprives you of the liberty that it was established to secure, than you are not a patriot – at least not in my book.
Edward Abbey once said, “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.” Samuel L. Clemens, aka Mark Twain also said, “…the true patriotism, the only rational patriotism, is loyalty to the Nation ALL the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it.”
Patriotism is not measured by how well you defend an image, sing a patriotic song or recite a pledge of allegiance; it is measured by how well you support the principles your country was founded upon. And if freedom of speech and expression are among those principles, a true patriot would defend that right to the death, not threaten to stomp the ass of someone exercising it!