So, almost 17 YEARS after . . . here we are again. I don't have time to transcribe the entire thing, but here are some excerpts from the column your own BenGoshi wrote for his school paper back in September 1989, following the U.S. Supreme Court's upholding the Texas Supreme Court's invalidating the then-Texas anti-flag burning law. The points remain valid today. And, perhaps a refresher on how we got here would be beneficial.
"I'm not anti-American. I wave the flag as much as anybody else." -- former U.S. Army officer James Hall, convicted of spying for the Soviet Union.
Legions of those bent on torching U.S. flags are in a fearful quandry. When the House passed a bill Tuesday that would make flag burning a crime . . . most on Capitol Hill agreed that the sanctity of the flag . . . and the ability to garner votes with demagoguery must be preserved.
Seems this rather disgruntled fellow named Greg Johnson burned and American flag in front of the Dallas City Hall during the 1984 Republican Convention. Johnson was arrested and convicted on a Texas Class A Misdemeanor - Desecration of a Venerated Object. The case worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court . . . the last one being from the Texas Attorney General's Office to reinstate Johnson's conviction, which had been overturned by a Texas high court.
Yes, that's right: the TEXAS Court had thrown out the conviction and the U.S. Supreme Court merely upheld the Texas one.
. . . Johnson's flag burning was constitutionally protected 'symbolic speech,' a First Amendment right.
Many were surprised that two of the three Reagan appointees to the Court, Justices Scalia and Kennedy, sided with the pro-civil rights wing of the Court. In fact, Justice Kennedy coined in his opinion what is destined to become an historic American aphorism: 'It is poignant but fundamental that the flag protects those who hold it in contempt.'
Ironic, and surprising, that, to many people, eh? Also ironic (maybe) is the contempt that the GOP attack poodles are the ones who truly hold the flag in contempt.
. . . Interesting and heartening are the veterans who agree with the court's ruling. James Warner, a former Marine pilot and Viet Nam prisoner of war, testified on Capitol Hill against legislative circumvention of the Court. . . . During a summer of torture and 're-education' for Warner, a V.C. officer showed him a photo of several Americans buring a flag in protest of the war. The officer told Warner that the photo proved Warner was wrong about his feelings for the United States and its supposed ideals. 'No,' Warner responded. 'That proves that I am right. In my country we are not afraid of freedom, even if it means people disagree with us.' Warner's patriotism was anchored in a love of freedom, not idolatry.
Where is he today and why isn't he running for U.S. Senate?
On the Senate floor, Senator Bob Kerrey . . . a highly decorated Viet Nam veteran, said, "When you're done arguing, what have you got? Have you built a house? Have you helped somebody? Have you created a better world . . . or are you banging into shadows on the walls of the cave?'
As a practical matter, an anti-flag burning amendment or statute is bound to prove laughably impotent or cumbersome. For example, using the side of a building and a projector, could not someone legally unleash a 2,500 square foot movie montage of Old Glories, hundreds of them, writhing in fiery consumption?
Could someone burn a large photograph of the Stars and Stripes? A small picture? Could protesters bake a large, flag-shaped and colored cake, eat it in public, then induce themselves to vomit on an American flag? Could a flag missing one star, thereby rendering it not a U.S. flag, be legally burned in the town square?
Of course, I don't advocate any such silliness. I don't have the time or inclination to be such a "performance artist". But if someone wanted to . . .
. . . In his dissenting opinion in Johnson's case, Chief Justice Rehnquist, in addition to relying more on stirring poems than legal precedent, remarked that 'flag burning is the equivalent of an inarticulate grunt or roar.' I agree. However, to punish those who 'grunt or roar' with a burning flag . . . would only make martyrs of the intellectually bankrupt.
Agree or disagree with me about the paragraph above, but please enjoy the following:
Perhaps Justice Brennan said it best: 'We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom this cherished emblem represents.'