Flag Burning Amendment Unnecessary and Unpatriotic
Bob Kerrey, who earned a Medal of Honor for his service as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam, argues against amending the Constitution to prohibit flag burning.
Unfortunately, enthusiasm for this amendment appears to have grown even as flag-burning incidents have vanished as a means of political protest. The last time I saw an image of the U.S. flag being desecrated in this way was nearly 20 years ago, when the court issued its decision. Thus this amendment — never appropriate in the oldest democracy on earth — has become even less necessary. But necessity is not always the mother of legislation.
If our First Amendment is altered to permit laws to be passed prohibiting flag desecration, would we like to see our police powers used to arrest an angry mother who burns a flag? Or a brother in arms whose disillusionment leads him to defile this symbol of the nation? I hope the answer is no. I hope we are strong enough to tolerate such rare and wrenching moments. I hope our desire for calm and quiet does not make it a crime for any to demonstrate in such a fashion. In truth, if I know anything about the spirit of our compatriots, some Americans might even choose to burn their flag in protest of such a law.
Real patriotism cannot be coerced. Our freedom to speak was attacked — not our flag. The former, not the latter, needs the protection of our Constitution and our laws.
Flag burning is a particularly vile form of speech. Still, there are no legitimate public policy reasons to restrict it under penalty of law.
That it is speech is hard to question. Indeed, the very reason it makes most of us so angry to see our flag burned in protest is how powerfully it communicates the message of contempt. Further, burning the flag would be restricted only when done to send that particular message. If the Veterans of Foreign Wars carries out a ceremony burning tattered and faded flags, rendering the proper honors, many of the same people who are outraged by “flag burning” get choked up with pride.