Flag burning

One of LISNews' illustrious posters, in commenting on book burning, threw in a question as to whether we supported a Constitutional amendment to ban flag burning.

I didn't respond there because the question was so off-topic.

I find the question interesting because, as far as I know, the only approved way to dispose of a worn-out or damaged U.S. flag is to burn it. Anything else is considered inappropriate.

So would a Constitutional amendment be phrased such that you were a criminal if it could be proved that the flag you burned was not sufficiently worn to be ready for burning, but OK if it was?

In practice, I would say that anyone who burns a flag as a form of political protest--something that's happened very rarely--is asserting that the flag has been metaphorically soiled by what they're protesting against. I might not agree--I think burning a flag is a stupid way to protest much of anything, just as I think burning books is a stupid way to protest much of anything--but there it is.

Or is this another attempt to equate love of country with love of a particular piece of cloth, and to make any form of protest that could conceivably be seen as denying that love a crime?


Walt, I agree with you that flag burning and book burning are poor forms of protest. However, I'm completely against criminalizing either, and I'm categorically against an anti-flag burning amendment for two reasons:

1) It raises the flag to the status of a sacred symbol and possibly a worship symbol. This is DEEPLY offensive to me as a Christian. The State is not God and its symbols are not sacrosanct. The flag is a symbol of our State, but only a symbol of a secular power.

In some ways, such an amendment would raise the flag to a privileged status beyond that of sacred symbols and scriptures. You can burn crosses, Stars of David, Korans, and Bibles as long as they belong to you and you burn them on your own property. It doesn't make sense to me to tell people that you can burn symbols of God in protest, but not symbols of the State. Since I do lean libertarian, I won't advocate the banning of burning sacred symbols in addition to the flag.

2) Our Constitution is meant to be the basic law of the land. Accordingly, only issues of defining importance to our government belong there. An anti-flag law is definitely statute status, if it were to belong on the books at all. Allowing an anti-flag burning amendment to the Constitution would, in my view open it up to all kinds of narrow "statute-like" amendments.

The point about the flag was that those who oppose any such amendment are quick to cry free speech. I found it odd that some were making the arguement that book burning would incite violence and was curious to know if anyone would decry flag burning on the same grounds.

Speaking for myself I'm ambivalent on the amendment. On the one hand if someone wants to make a fool of themselves they should be allowed to without interference. On the other hand it is the symbol of our country and should be afforded a certain consideration.

Illustrious? I know you like people to read as little as possible into anything you may say, possibly to the point where everything means nothing, but you'll pardon me if I doubt your sincerity.


No, you're illustrious in your own way. Doesn't mean I agree with you. Doesn't even mean I think all of your essays are equally well-reasoned (but then, that's certainly true of mine as well).

I assume you take pride in what you do, and you're certainly well-known within LISNews circle. Those are two of the meanings. "Illustrative" might also be apropos--illustrative of one brand of conservatism.

I don't remember saying that people shouldn't read whatever they want into what I say--only that they're not always correct, and sometimes are going way too far to read things into what I say. For that matter, even if (when) I object to overinterpretation of what I say, I still believe in the other person's right to make such overinterpretations: YOu have never seen me write "YOU CAN'T SAY THAT."

As a 1st Amendment absolutist (or pretty close), I find book burning offensive--but would certainly not choose to criminalize it, and think the claim of inciting to violence is extreme. And I think your comment about someone making a fool of themselves applies quite well to book burning as it does to flag burning. (That is, I think both actions are remarkably foolish and self-defeating.)

Well-argued on both points. (No surprise there.)

I can't see why burning one's own flag should be criminalized. If you steal another's flag and burn it, well thats a horse of a different colour.

In Florida several years ago a man was charged with arson for burning his car so his wife would not get it in a divorce. He burned it in the parking lot of his business, away from anything else that might burn. He was convicted, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. The decision was that if it is your stuff and you burn it on your land and use reasonable car you can burn what you want. (The ex-wife was not in it at the time.)

So if you paid for it and you want to burn it go right ahead. I'll think you're a dimwit, but live it up Einstein.