Burning the stars and stripes...

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Sandwiched between Flag Day and Independence Day, the Republican leadership of the US Senate has decided to spend the week debating the critical issues of war and peace, poverty and wealth, life and death.

Oh no, that's not this week. This week, they're worrying about flag-burning. At issue - a proposed amendment to our Constitution:

The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.

And whether or not you think burning the American flag is an appropriate form of protest, you gotta admit that having wide-open language like that is an invitation for trouble.

I have questions:

* Will "physical desecration of the flag" include the physical desecration of non-flag objects that merely look like flags - such as stars-n-stripes underwear?


* A word-smithing question... Doesn't "the flag of the United States" imply that there's only one? Does that mean that the burn-ban only applies to "the" flag - wherever it may be?

* Will "physical desecration" include doing things that don't include flag burning? Such as, say, scribbling on one with a permanent marker?


* There's already a law that bans the commercial use of the flag:

"The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever." (U.S. Code Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 8, Item I)

Seems like this is one of the most regularly-broken laws of all time. (See Jeff Alworth's post last year.) Before they start worrying about burning - which hardly ever happens - shouldn't they enforce the law that would seem to ban these?

Memorialdaysale Iaff


* Why don't they just pass a consumer-protection law that mandates flags be made out of flame-retardant material? If it's good enough for kiddie pajamas...

I'm just asking...

  • Emess (unverified)

    Kari -- Yes to most of your questions! If Congress ever decided to start enforcing Title IV, there would be so many arrests it would make your head spin.

    Not only does Title IV explicitly ban activities beyond advertising with the flag and burning the flag, but in the same breath it groups those activities together with

    1) Writing on the flag (think the Kevin Costner Movie The Postman) 2) Printing the flag or a picture of the flag on something meant to be disposed (a la Fourth of July napkins) 3) Flying the flag in such a way that the stripes end is battened down (when hanging, it should hang downward with the blue union in the top left) 4) Having a flag on your car that is anywhere other than the front-right of the hood (so that the corporate or foreign symbol on your grill doesn't precede the flag down the road) 5) Hanging a flag over a north-south street and having the union on the east side of the street (or on the south side of an east-west street) 6) Wearing any clothing that is made out of or resembles part of the flag (those horrible neckties) 7) Wearing a flag lapel pin on one's right lapel (This is the part of the flag code that declares the flag a living thing)

    etc, etc.

    Not only that, but I beleive that if you were to look up Title IV, you would find that these precautions apply not ONLY to the flag itself, but to anything that is printed with a combination of stars and stripes that is meant to resemble or invoke the flag or any part thereof. (Ahem... the flag of Texas?)

    A waiver for any of these regulations, as I understand it, requires an executive order. During WWII, crates of aid sent over to Europe from the United States had a flag stamped on them -- and that stamp, since it was on a to-be-discarded material, required an executive order from FDR.

    Now, Congress, could -- in theory -- choose to codify only a small section of what is and is not considered "desecration"... but that kind of defeats the professed purpose of the amendment, doesn't it? As in, "We prohibit desecration unless it's good for business."

    New rule: No one who has ever worn a flag necktie or thrown away a flag napkin can speak in favor of this horrible amendment.

  • Sponge (unverified)

    Any time you try to prohibit an action that does nothing but offend someone's personal feelings you run into trouble with definitions and interpretations (let alone the violence the law does to the very concept of civil liberty). Several years ago, my community tried to pass a sign ordinance to regulate the size and placement of commercial signs. The ordinance ran 63 pages, most of which were attempts at defining what a sign is: Is a balloon a sign; even if it doesn't have any writing on it? The ordinance eventually died under the weight of its own unenforceability. Recently, several large mega-sized billboards were erected in the city. This affront to scenic sensibilities elicited renewed calls for another sign ordinance, and vilification of the city council's failure to pass one twenty years ago.

    Regardless of one's idolotry for the flag, and all it represents, an attempt to write this kind of "protection" into the U.S. Constitution is a ridiculous abuse of legislative grandstanding.

  • EJ (unverified)

    Why does our congress do things like this? They are acting like they are bored with thier work. Can't they work on something more meaningful that something petty like this? I didn't know boredom was a requirement of being a memner of congress.

  • JEsse O (unverified)

    Sandwiched between Flag Day and Independence Day, the Republican leadership of the US Senate has decided to spend the week debating the critical issues of war and peace, poverty and wealth, life and death. Oh no, that's not this week. This week, they're worrying about flag-burning

    And so is BlueOregon. Ah, the irony of pointing out that people are talking about something silly gets people talking about something silly.

  • (Show?)

    Jesse O -- hey, it wasn't those of us here at BlueOregon that decreed the national topic-of-the-week...

    Would you have us ignore this idiotic piece of legislation (nevermind the assault on our civil liberties that it represents)?

  • CLAY SHENTRUP (unverified)

    This is yet another great reason to vote for Libertarian candidates for office. If you want the government to be able to tell you what substances you can put into your body, or who you can have sex with (or for what price), and what items of personal property you may or may not burn, then the anti-freedom platforms of the Democratic and Republican parties should make you quite happy. But if you like freedom, and if this story gets your blood boiling, then register as a Libertarian today.

  • CLAY SHENTRUP (unverified)
    <h2>This affront to scenic sensibilities elicited renewed calls for another sign ordinance, and vilification of the city council's failure to pass one twenty years ago.</h2>

    If the signs were on private property, what right would you or anyone else have to decide how large they could be? The answer: none.

  • (Show?)

    Funny that liberals are supposed to ignore the hijacking of the federal government by partisan hacks who are demogoguing an issue mainly to get re-elected in a year when their own corruption, incompetence, and polarizing viciousness threatens to sink them. And the thing that's unseemly is the liberals pointing it out?

  • (Show?)

    One can never underestimate the appeal to those who don't think through the implications of emotional issues like the Flag. Just look at the ABC poll that came out today. 68% of Americans, after watching three year of Iraqi's getting blown up on a daily basis, claim that the war has improved the lives of Iraqis and 49% feel our invasion and occupation has encouraged democracy in other Arab countries.

    Do these people even think for two seconds before they respond to the pollster? All they seem to be responding to is the repeated claims of Bush and company in total contradiction to the evidence reported daily from Bagdad.

    So why wouldn't these same people want to stop all those pot smoking hippies we saw in the 60's from burning flags in the 21st century? urggggggggggggggg!

  • Karl (unverified)

    I have promised to burn a flag if this ammendment is passed as a necessary thing to do to show honor and respect for what it stands for. Anyone who would vote for such a desecrating ammendment either doesn't believe in what the flag stands for or doesn't have a clue. I would plead that anyone who cares about freedom, democracy and the soul of this country would join me.

  • EBrown (unverified)

    Man... I dunno. that's quite a paradox. While I would fight all I could to get this amendment killed, I would never burn a flag myself -- because freedom and what it stands for are, you know, totally cool.

    Would it make more sense to burn a little effigy of the Capitol Building? Or maybe the state flag of whoever sponsored the stupid bill?

  • (Show?)

    I think this is nothing but grandstanding on the part of the GOP. All they are looking for is another "GOP talking points" slogan for their campaigns this fall.

    It will probably sound something like this:

    "Liberals hate the American flag." "Liberals burn flags." "Liberals hate America."

    Excuse me if I'm being a little snarky, but wheat happened with the immigration debate?

    Same ****, diffrent day.

  • (Show?)

    Sorry that should have read what happened with the immigration debate, not "wheat"

  • Dan J (unverified)


    thanks for keeping this flag burning issue alive.

    It is a complete losing conversation for liberals.

    Once again, liberals swallow the hook & bait.

    I encourage all of you to go to a park this weekend and stage a rally on this issue. Show the public what you think!

    Demonstrate your freedom to express an un-popular decision. Do it when young people are dying in an un-popular war.

    Go ahead. Show us how you live by principal, politics be-damned!

    Democrats are going to get rolled this fall in the election.

  • (Show?)

    Dan J. wrote: "Show us how you live by principal, politics be-damned ... Democrats are going to get rolled this fall in the election."

    In light of the DeLay and Abramoff scandals swirling around the Republicans, could you explain how exactly it's a losing move for Democrats to campaign on sticking to core American principals, like freedom of speech and expression?

    As the Republicans have learned, people vote for those who stick to their principals.

  • Dan J (unverified)

    Please Leo,

    Don't call flag burning one of the "core American principals".

    If you don't get it now, you won't get it in the fall.

    The public doesn't really care too much about Delay, Abramoff or William Jefferson of LA.

    Those are dead stories. Those three will receive the justice they deserve.

    So, once again, please do go burn flags if you feel strongly that it is a free speech issue. The majority of votors (myself included) will make our own decision about the value of such speech in November.

    Make sure to call the media and get lots of camera time. Be proud of your "core American principals".

    How can we dull, slow, myopic, conservative trolls compete with such left wing political wisdom?

  • Emess (unverified)

    Suddenly, and without warning, Dan J inadvertently made a startling argument in favor of a republican (small r) form of government.

    Dan J is right -- the American voter is turned off by flag burning. (Though I have yet to see a voter who makes his or her decision based on that issue.) The majority opposes it because they don't make the connection between the freedoms that they enjoy versus the distasteful acts that must accompany it... the "liberty valence," as an old prof of mine used to say. To put it simply, you can't have light without casting shadows.

    Joe Voter typically doesn't bring philosophy into the voting booth... which is why we're Constitutionally protected from direct democracy (Article IV... the initiative system notwithstanding for some reason).

  • Karl (unverified)

    How do you suppose they'll get around the fact that burning is the ONLY honorable way to dispose of a worn out flag?....at least that's what I learned in scouts.

    This flag thing really gets me because it symbolizes how these guys are the biggest threat to our freedom, democracy and wellbeing that I have seen in my 60+ years. I can't think of anything that could dishonor and desecrate our flag more than this law, unless it's what these guys are doing while they wrap themselves in it.

  • james caird (unverified)

    Look at Dan J, all proud of the fact that his party wins elections because they ignore corruption, cronyism, massive deficit spending, failed foriegn policies, health care, lax port security, job security for the working class etc., etc. and simply pander to stupid people.

    Way to go Republicans. That's a record to be proud of. How can conservatives claim to love America when they interject distracting crap like this into the debate? Answer: They don't love America, they love their own power and fame. The best example of this is Ann Coulter.

    Shameless hussies ... every last one of 'em.

    They'd sell their own mother to knife-wielding jihadist intent on beheading her if they thought there was another vote in it for them.


  • Ed Bickford (unverified)

    Thank God its over! Senate rejects flag desecration amendment.

    It's impossible to have an intelligent discussion about such a cynical move. As usual Russ Feingold is succinct and to the point:

    "When we uphold 1st Amendment freedoms despite the efforts of misguided and despicable people who want to provoke our wrath, we explain what America is really about. Our country and our people are far too strong to be threatened by those that would burn a flag."

  • Dan J (unverified)

    Dear little Jimmy (Caird),

    Excercise your brain a bit more than reading off all of the liberal slogans listed on every hand-held sign at every liberal rally. Your first paragraph was dissapointing. Try and be original. As a matter of fact, that's a decent suggestion for you wild eyed libs. The electorate is growing tired of your 70's era wailing and screeming. Put the peace pipe down and join the 21st century.

    The part about simply panders to stupid people was another blast from the past. Go ahead, keep offending the majority of the population by calling them stupid. Good strategy Jimmy!

    My favorite part was the "shamelss hussies" line. Haven't heard that phrase used in quite some time. It put a smile on my face and laughter in my heart.

    But please do keep on keepin on. You liberals are a fun group and I enjoy reading your dead end banter.

  • David Wright (unverified)

    I think that Colin Powell said it best. It's not just "you liberals" who oppose the amendment on principle.

    And WTF with 14 Democratic senators voting in favor? Of course it was designed as a bludgeon for the midterm elections to use against those who voted no, but surely not all 14 of those have to run this year?

  • Emess (unverified)

    If Dan J can honestly tell me he's never worn any clothing with any flag-like emblem or design on it, then I'll say he may have something there. That means no American Flag neckties, no Tommy Hilfiger tags, no stars-and-stripes bandana...

    And can he say (can any of us?) that he's never thrown out an Independence-Day-themed napkin? Or never put one of those ridiculous plastic American Flags in his car window... or a bumper sticker with a flag design on his rear bumper?

    You want to talk about spouting talking points...

    I'm so tired of the conservative "patriots" who are against flag burning because they've been told that's a disgrace... and pleasantly ignore the dozens of other just-as-vile disgraces.

    The same people that want to enshrine the Star-Spangled Banner in an English-only law... but don't know how the first line of the second verse.

    People who go to the parades and salute and cry on July 4... but have no historical concept of what atually ocurred on July 4, 1776 that we're celebrating (hint: it's not the signing of the Declaration of Independence).

    Loving one's country has to go beyond a blind distaste for one particular form of disrespect.

  • Jesse O (unverified)

    Hey, my bad. I didn't realize the vote was going to be so close (and then all those state legislature battles keeping this in the news -- shit!)

    Thank you, once again, Gordon Smith, for voting to stifle freedom and playing politics with our symbol of freedom. I can't believe you were elected.

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