Some people’s Fourth of July included spending time with family and friends. Others included watching a man stuff approximately 70 hot dogs in his mouth. For Bryton Gregory Mellott, his Fourth of July included a stay in a jail cell for American flag desecration and disorderly conduct. Mellott was (rightfully) eventually released from custody and not charged. But the response from many Internet observers was of incredulity. Some said that he can protest all he wants, but he has no right to burn the flag. Others went as far as to say that Mellott should be prosecuted for treason because of this act.
Being the benevolent patriot I am, I do happen to think that the act of burning the flag is one that is reprehensible. But in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter what I or any angry chorus of flag-loving individuals think. The facts are really the only thing that should matter. One fact that I can glean from those who favor prosecution of flag burners is that they don’t do much boning up on their Supreme Court history. If they did they would realize immediately that their opinions have no legal basis.
The case of Texas v. Johnson that the Supreme Court ruled on back in 1989 is the de facto final answer as it pertains to the issue of flag burning. Not some random Illinois statute. Not any sort of anti-flag burning legislation produced by Congress that was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court. What the majority of the court decided in Texas vs. Johnson was that “flag burning constitutes a form of ‘symbolic speech’ that is protected by the First Amendment …freedom of speech protects actions that society may find very offensive, but society’s outrage alone is not justification for suppressing free speech.”
“Things like dissent and opposing opinions on how government is run are what helped build this country. To try to police that through making laws against flag burning is to betray what this country was founded upon, which is why it still should be protected as free speech no matter how you feel about it.”
It’s definitely not lost upon me that so many people don’t like it when the flag is burned by protesters and think it should be a prosecutable offense. But I say to them, so what? If we prosecuted people based on things we don’t like, then people who skip lines and walk cats on leashes would have been in handcuffs years ago. Also, countries like North Korea, China and Iran all have laws that specifically banning flag burning. These nations are relatively oppressive places that the United States at one point or another fought against because of their oppressive ways. Do we as a relatively ideologically free nation want to adopt policies which accurately highlight just how oppressive those nations are? The price of admission to this glorious democracy of ours is allowing people to voice their displeasure with the government. According to the Supreme Court, included in that voice is the burning of the American flag.
People aren’t burning the flag because they are inherently evil and have Ivan Drago-levels of hatred for this nation. It’s clear that they are expressing frustration with the way they and others have been treated by their government. To just pretend like this nation is perfect with no problems and to dismiss these flag burners as ungrateful anti-Americans is to display the same blind ignorance that caused Mellott to burn the flag in the first place.
There isn’t some magical fairy dust embedded into these flags that is solely responsible for making America great. That flag is ultimately just a piece of cloth. What truly makes America great is the people that make up this nation, and the values we all share as American citizens. Things like dissent and opposing opinions on how government is run are what helped build this country. To try to police that through making laws against flag burning is to betray what this country was founded upon, which is why it still should be protected as free speech no matter how you feel about it.
Finally, a larger point that should be brought up is that of how selfish people have gotten with their freedoms. The rights and privileges we enjoy aren’t gonna be agreed upon by everyone in this nation. But part of being a great American, in my opinion, is having the ability to tolerate and appreciate all of the freedoms we have been afforded, and to realize that American soldiers did not die for only the freedoms that you agree with. They died to protect all of our freedoms. To restrict others constitutional rights based on your own personal moral code is un-American, hypocritical and at worst, a sign of a fascist nation. A nation where there is only one brand, one kind of freedom accepted. That is not what I want this nation to become, and if you really love America and all she has to offer, I’m sure you feel the same way.