Thursday, June 23, 2005

Torching the First Amendment

The Republican-controlled Congress has passed yet another bill to ban flag burning. These things usually die in the Senate, but now that the Republicans have a heftier majority in that body it is not so certain. So we may soon have to go through the process of amending our Constitution over a politically-charged non-issue.

Right now if somebody burns a flag they get disdain and scorn. But in the future they will get disdain, scorn and lots of free publicity! Oh Boy!! I don’t honestly know when the last time there was a U.S. flag burned in protest but I am pretty certain it is a relatively rare and uncommon occurence. In the future there will likely be lots of flags burned by people looking to challenge bans on flag burning.

Since the proper way to dispose of an old flag is by burning it, laws to prevent flag burning will have to be based on intent - which means putting people in jail for expressing unpopular political views. That means altering the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. There is just no other way around it.

Then there is the problem with actually enforcing such a law if it ever comes to pass. Can you only be prosecuted for burning a flag? And if so, how do you define what a flag is? Can you be prosecuted for burning a piece of cloth that looks like a flag? What about a flag printed on paper or terricloth? What about a flag that has only 49 stars? Or a flag that has 14 stripes? What about a flag that uses blue dye No. 8 instead of the official blue dye No. 9 (or whatever)?

And when the Patriot Police finish figuring out how they will enforce this new law what will they go after next? Prosecuting people for not standing during the national anthem? Requiring recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at every public or private event involving two or more people? Criminalizing other forms of political speech that is critical of the government? The options are endless.

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