Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Burn, Baby! Burn!

Once more, Congress has decided to spend their time trying to pass an amendment to ban flag-burning, or in point of fact, desecration of any sort.

I'll let that sink in.

The key word here is Amendment. The Constitution of the country is the foundation of its legal and political frameworks. As such it provides a baseline for law, national ethics and values. Coupled with the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments), the document defines how the United States approaches law through the implementation of community standard (majority rule) and its coupling with protection for the rights of minority groups. Since its inception, amendments have been made with the intention of being so sweeping they represented the will of the nation to a degree that should be unassailable by special interests.

It hasn't been all shining moments and progressive lawmaking (see the amendments on prohibition for our case in point), but that only drives my irritation home further.

The 11th Amendment restricted Judiciary power. The 12th established the Electoral College.

The 13th and 14th Amendment freed the slaves and guaranteed them rights and citizenship and the 15th Amendment circumvented popular interpretation of some wording in the Constitution to ensure them the vote.

The 16th Amendment clarified income taxation. The 17th removed the appointment of Senators and made them subject to popular vote. The 18th and 21st Amendments are the aforementioned Prohibition Amendments and we'd all do well to forget that travesty of lawmaking. The 19th Amendment did for women what the 15th was supposed to do for the ex-slave population. The 20th limits the damage an outgoing President and other lawmakers can do. The 22nd Amendment limits Presidential terms. The 23rd Amendment gave D.C. residents the ability to vote, which they had not had previously. The 24th Amendment removed the polling tax, allowing more access to the vote. The 25th Amendment clarified succession to the Presidency. The 26th Amendment lowered the voting aget to 18. Finally, the 27th Amendment modified the way Congress votes itself raises.

At least 9 of the post Bill of Rights Amendments deal directly or indirectly with voting. Others with distribution of power, taxation, and corruption. These are all vital and important issues dealing with some of the fundamentals that affect the functioning of the republic.

Yet...Congress now wants to rehash ground not dissimilar to that traversed by the 18th through the imposition of a law desired by a select group of special interests that trample freedoms established through previous articles, namely the first.

The proposed 28th Amendment reads: The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.

First, like so many items championed by the great United States Congress, the verbiage here is profoundly vague. This is, no doubt, intentional. Just as the open nature of the 1st Amendment allows a broad reading for its interpretation, this proposed amendment will be similarly sweeping if it ever passes.

The definition of desecration includes disrespect and as such, limits freedom of speech in ways no other censor has managed. Granted, the verbiage utilizes the word physical which limits its scope somewhat, however, the generalized nature of the declaration allows for punitive action through legislation and judicial challenge.

Here's the real thrust of my objection, though:

The flag is...well, a flag. It's cloth. It is certainly symbolic of the United States and of the values and ethics it espouses, but in the end, it is just a tapestry of iconography. It is not mystically powerful nor is it a housing for the soul of the nation. It is, and only is, a standard to be waved over national assets and holdings.

I don't think those that wish to obstruct the mistreatment of the flag realize that they are empowering those they're trying so hard to neuter. By imparting inflated relevance to Old Glory, they inadvertently supply their detractors with significant power. If it is as important as they say, then those who burn it accomplish more than protest, they achieve an emotional and ideological victory through their public destruction, indeed their public desecration, of the flag. By supplying them with the means to inflict ideological trauma, they will use it.

Contrast this: by never legislating a change to the ability to destroy the flag in protest, lawmakers and U.S. citizens retain the ability to snort in derision or indifference and move on with their lives, removing a significant portion of the ideological power breaking the law would have in a situation like this. Unlegislated, the imagery of foreign nationals burning the flag is incendiary (no pun intended) but not aggressive. Aggression manifests when such protests breach legal boundaries other than those governing open fires within city limits.

Ultimately, this movement is a waste of time, energy and focus. Legislators need to concentrate on vital and important issues like our eroding freedoms under the U.S.A.P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act or our civil and human rights record in relation to Guantanamo Bay or our farce of an educational system.