Seeing as how the flag buring issue is bound to keep resurfacing every few years like some kind of zombie horror show I decided to dig up this old Letter to the Editor on that subject that I wrote during the first Bush presidency. This was published in the Bryan-College Station Eagle on July 13, 1989.
“The hysterical wave of nationalism that has swept across our country has encouraged our President to propose an amendment to our Constitution that would put a serious dent in the Bill of Rights. No, even worse than a dent, it would be a wedge that future leaders could use to pressure in even broader restrictions on our freedom of expression.
Some people seem to be surprised that the First Amendment protects more than just the spoken word. The Surpreme Court has consistently held that symbolic actions are protected as free expression as long as they are conducted peacefully. This is nothing new. What is new is this near idolatry of the flag. Having respect for what the flag stands for is one thing, worshipping the flag itself is something else.
Chief Justice Rehnquist was wrong in trying to compare flag burning to defacing a public monument. A protester cannot purchase a monument, but they can go to any store and buy their own flag. If they burn someone else’s flag then they should be tried for theft and destruction of another’s property. But they should not be penalized for expressing anger and resentment against the government in the most dramatic and shocking way - burning a symbol of that government. What if they fire up a copy of the Constitution or hang an effigy of the President? Would this not be equally offensive? Our founding fathers believed that goodness and righteousness would always prevail through forces of reason and therefore were not afraid to allow a free flow of ideas. Why are we afraid today?”
With folks like John Ashcroft and Tom Delay in charge of things these days maybe we should be afraid!