ON A PERSONAL NOTE/By Maramis
As time goes on, and the further away from the history of this country we get, it seems there are those who choose to “rewrite” it to suit
their own agenda. Well, maybe some parts of it need re-writing—but not to suit anyone’s own particular version of how they want it to be, such as those who wish to make parts of our past disappear.
We know we are not a perfect nation, and we know our government over the years has made a lot of mistakes: some out of ignorance and some for all the wrong reasons, but I believe most of us still feel that there is no other country for us. Not that any other country has nothing to offer, but we feel that our own country is the one we would always choose if we had to make that choice.
Maybe it’s because we love what we know, or maybe it’s because we don’t know other countries well enough to love them. Some people live abroad or in foreign lands (other than the United States) for more than a few years, but they still view themselves as Americans, as
belonging to, or loyal to, their homeland. And while there might be times we wonder what the heck is happening to this country of ours, we still would not choose to live elsewhere. I guess that’s how citizens of other countries feel when they rise up in revolt against their government. We did that ourselves at least once. Maybe that’s why we have the freedoms we celebrate every Independence Day.
We do not have to see America as perfect to love her, any more than we can only love people who are perfect. (Good luck finding anyone to love if that was your plan!) In some cases, individuals who are citizens of this country—and by choice, since they are free to move out if they so desire; this country, so far, does not keep its citizens captive—sometimes turn their back on her for their own
personal reasons: some to make a political point; some to follow the leader (someone who first came up with the idea that if the United
States of America does not immediately and always act in a way that meets with their approval, then some action that shows their attitude must be taken); or to hopefully gain support for their cause, etc.
Burning our flag was one way some showed their displeasure (to put it mildly) with this country. And even though we do not like to see such a thing or even hear of it, it has been declared a form of symbolic free speech under the First Amendment. Following the Vietnam War, there was a penalty attached to burning the American flag, which started when the 90th Congress passed something called the Federal Flag Desecration Law in 1968 in response to a Central Park event in which peace activists burned American flags in protest of the Vietnam War.
However, during the 20 years that followed, there was much tension between those who were on the side of the symbolic importance of the U.S. flag and those who saw burning the flag in protest as an individual’s symbolic freedom of speech under the First Amendment.
Court cases came and went, including the Flag Protection Act, like the one the 101st Congress passed in 1989, giving Congress the right to enact statutes criminalizing the burning or desecration of the flag in public protest. That Act, 8 U.S. Code § 700—delineating the penalties for desecration of the flag of the United States, stated: Whoever knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any flag of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both. Which brought us full circle back to the flag-burning days of the Vietnam War.
But the really important thing to understand about this is NOT what we think of our flag, but what we think of our rights.
That Flag Protection Act of 1989 was struck down not long after it was passed on the same grounds which were disputed in the first place: that the government’s interest in preserving the flag as a symbol did not (and does not) outweigh an individual’s First Amendment right to desecrate the flag in protest.
Remember, if we get to pick and choose what can be covered by our First Amendment rights on the basis of how we feel about what people do in expressing themselves, we may well wind up with speakers being banned at venues such as universities because someone does not like the subject matter they will be speaking on. Oh wait! That has already happened! What could possibly come next? Banning someone because they don’t agree with the general ideology of what the school teaches? Or, heaven forbid, because of their religion or the color of their skin?
Maybe we love our country because we not only believe, as a nation, in the rights we hold dear, but we are free to fight for those rights as our forefathers once did, and we need to cherish them now as they did then.
While some may choose to not only turn their backs on our country or our flag, or make some kind of statement that clearly shows their disrespect for what it stands for, we can thank God we live in a country that allows freedom of speech, however symbolic, and that such freedom will always outweigh the preserving of the material that goes into the making of our flag. Most of us will still respect our flag on general principles, but if we legislate penalties against those who choose to go another way, perhaps that will be the first crack in the dam that will let the flood waters in!
God bless us and all those who helped us remain the land of the free!
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Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.