Friday, July 3, 2009

Freedom of Speech

My good friend sent me one of the op-ed pieces from today's Wall Street Journal and asked what I thought. The subject is whether or not the U.S. should pass a constitutional amendment banning desecrating the American Flag.

As much as I disagree with someone burning the U.S. Flag, I whole-heartedly support their right to do so. It may be surprising to hear this from a former Army officer and someone who takes their patriotism seriously. I still get chills every time I hear the National Anthem. Being an American means a lot to me and seeing someone desecrating a flag is upsetting.

Folks for the amendment argue that because of the uniqueness of the American Flag, it should hold special status. Chief Justice William Renquist wrote that the burning of the flag is:

The equivalent of an inarticulate grunt or roar that, it seems fair to say, is most likely to be indulged in not to express any particular idea, but to antagonize others.
Eugene Volokh, the author of the editorial points out that Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) doesn't believe that the 1st Amendment covers non-verbal speech. Volokh spends the rest of the article debunking that and I couldn't agree more. Putting limitations on speech, no matter how distasteful they may seem to someone, is the most anti-American think I can think of. Even more disgusting than the clowns that protest and disrupt the funerals of servicemen and women killed in combat, by holding up signs that say such deplorable things as "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" or "God Blew Up the Troops". The real irony is that the soldiers died protecting their very right to denegrate that funeral.

Most importantly, though, this type of law creates a slippery slope when the government now chooses what speech/expression is legal. Speech that is unpopular is often times the most important in a democratic society.

Happy July 4th to everyone, especially the soldiers who are in harm's way. God bless them and usher them a speedy return to their families.


gregandlori said...

But isn't burning a flag equivalent to yelling fire in a crowded movie theater? Inciting violence?

I was hoping to argue with you more on this one, but I I agree with you.

"It is the soldier, not the reporter, Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the soldier, not the poet, Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the soldier, not the organizer, Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.

It is the soldier, Who salutes the flag, Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag, Who allows the protestor to burn the flag.

- Father Dennis Edward O'Brian, USMC

Doug H. said...

I don't think it is the equivalent. Much like shocking art is not; nor is protesting (peacefully) and shouting things about the president. The old joke the American and a Russian is telling.
American (boastfully): I can stand outside the White House and yell about how bad our president is.
Russian: No big deal. I can stand outside the Kremlin and shout about how bad the American president is, too.