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Wednesday, July 05, 2006 

Hitch on the Flag

Christopher Hitchens has a great piece on Opinion Journal about flag burning and the defeated Amendment. Hitchens reminds us why the First Amendment is so important and such an incredible concept...
I would perhaps be suspected of excess Fourth of July zeal if I said that the First Amendment is my life as well as the source of my living, but I swear that it would not be that far from the truth. No other country has such a terse and comprehensive statement of the case for free expression: considered important enough to rank first, and also to rank with the freedom of religious conscience. The jewel in the crown of the Bill of Rights does not say that Congress shall make no hasty or crowd-pleasing law abridging the right of assembly and protest. It stoutly insists that Congress shall make no such law.
Congress should read those words more often and try to remember them. And the Supreme Court should enforce those words when Congress has a memory lapse.

A point on the brazen politics of the Amendment...
You may believe if you choose that Hillary Clinton has abruptly decided to stand between her country's star-spangled banner and its unsleeping enemies. I cannot quite shake the feeling that she is instead putting the flag between herself and her potential critics. Is it this kind of degraded election-year parody that the sponsors of the proposal seriously wanted to encourage?
Then Hitchens gives this example about the flag and people's attitudes...
When it was proposed that my apartment building in Washington display Old Glory after Sept. 11, 2001, I was not at all opposed but did express a misgiving. What about the day when the flag becomes tattered and drooping, and it's nobody's particular job to take care of it? (You can all think of a comparable example, from a ragged flag on a truck to a half-vanished flag decal on a taxi.) There is nothing more dispiriting than the ebb of such a tide.
I remember seeing this a lot and just shaking my head. People just stuck flags in their front yards and forgot about them. They got rained on, ripped up, or fell down. It was a little disheartening to see. Then Hitchens makes an excellent point about respecting the flag on a personal level...
If I find that I have stuck a flag-stamp on an envelope and accidentally put it on upside-down, I admit with slight embarrassment that I now start over with a new envelope. Nobody would ever notice my tiny disrespect, but I still won't commit it. However, the whole case would be altered if I was told that I had to get it right. The flag would no longer stand for the constitutional spirit that gives it meaning in the first place.
That behavior is something that should not be forced by an amendment or a law. It's behavior that comes from an individual's values and beliefs. It tells you a lot about a person.

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