The Right To Stomp

Flag Assault

Noooo, that’s assault, and it’s a crime.

There are a lot of problems here.  Let’s enumerate them, shall we?

  1. This meme is based on a logical error called a non-sequitur (Latin for “does not follow”).  It opens with a premise (“Stomping on the U.S. flag is free and protected speech”), then leaps to a completely non-supported conclusion (“Stomping on a flag-stomper is free and protected speech”) based on nothing more than a superficial similarity between the two acts.  In fact, stomping on any person is probably a crime, regardless of what unsavory act the stompee perpetrated.
  2. It’s disturbing how many people think that violence – or the threat of violence – is an acceptable way of addressing folks they disagree with (and they wonder why gun control advocates push for stronger gun laws).  Toddlers are often told to “use their words” when they feel frustrated, but apparently that advice has lost its grip by the time people acquire the sophisticated vocabulary necessary to heed it.  Adults who create and share memes like this are operating on a preschool level of problem-solving.  Rather than try to sway public opinion with impassioned speeches, thoughtful essays, or protests, their first thought is to come out swinging.  Sounds like somebody needs a time out.
  3. This meme is representative of the kind of hyper-patriotism that is actually, in my opinion, harming our nation.  It’s fine to love the United States, but you should realize that no nation – not even ours – is perfect.  When you hold fast to the idea that the U.S.A. is perfect, you do a disservice to your country.  When you pledge to blindly defend the nation and its symbols, with violence if necessary, against ideological criticism, then you are no longer an asset to your nation.  You are a wart, a blemish.  You are not upholding the ideals of this great nation; you are preventing them from maturing.  By violently squelching unpleasant growing experiences, you become the guy who peaks in high school; so enchanted with the way things are now that he resists moving forward.  Don’t be that guy.  You should seek to address the issues that drove somebody to desecrate the flag, not to punish them for doing so.  Speaking of which…
  4. You ought to champion the rights of people to stomp on the flag, even if you strongly disagree with the message they’re sending.  The First Amendment protects all Americans’ rights to speech, including speech that criticizes the U.S. government, its policies, its citizens, or its flag, symbolic speech, and speech that others find offensive. The Supreme Court has ruled twice (in Texas v. Johnson and in United States v. Eichman) that laws prohibiting flag desecration are unconstitutional.  Despite numerous attempts by Congress to pass a Constitutional amendment that would settle the issue once and for all, none have succeeded.  At least for now, flag desecration (distasteful as it may be) remains a valid and protected way for an individual to express his or her opinion.  You cannot claim to be an American patriot when you are unwilling to tolerate people making full use of the protections offered by the American Constitution.
  5. The name of the website that apparently produced this meme, AmericanStrong.com, is particularly ironic.  Somebody who is so offended by displays of ideological dissent that they must hurt the dissenter is the opposite of strong.  The website should be called AmericanInsecure.com.
  6. To the person who said “I’m prepared to go to jail if I see someone stomping on our flag”: are you prepared to be labeled a terrorist?  Because if you hurt or threaten to hurt somebody in order to intimidate them into espousing your political position, or to punish them for expressing their own, that’s what I’ll call you.  Of course, that’s just my opinion, and you don’t have to agree with it.  My opinion does not come with the threat of violence; only the assertion that the person who stomps an American flag is causing less harm to this nation than the person who stomps the stomper.

Freedom of Speech and the Pledge of Allegiance

PredgeOfAllegiance

Um, no.

I’ve no idea to which generation the author of this meme belongs, but the Pledge of Allegiance hasn’t always been recited in this manner. Prior to 1954 the Pledge was two words shorter, but thanks to the efforts of the Knights of Columbus and others who wanted to differentiate America from those dirty atheist commies across the pond, Congress officially amended the Pledge to include the words “under God”. Also, before the hand-over-heart gesture became de rigueur, little students would salute the flag by extending their arms straight out at a slightly raised angle; that was changed in 1942 because it looked a little too much like a salute used by some troublemakers who were trying to take over Europe.

The recitation of the Pledge in public schools has been controversial, especially after the addition of a religious reference, and I’m certain that it offends people even today. But – there’s always a but – that doesn’t mean the PC Police have won. Only five states do not require public schools to set aside time for the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Read that again. Of these fifty United States, forty-five have rules on the books stating that public schools can set aside a few seconds of each school day to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, “under God” and all. Even in the states where Pledge time is not mandated, there may still be schools that do it.

Under Federal law (and many state and local laws as well) students cannot be compelled to stand up and recite the Pledge, nor can they be punished or singled out for embarrassment if they do not. I know that rankles many a hide, but a student’s free speech rights include the right not to speak if he so chooses. How does it look if you must force a student to recite the words “with liberty and justice for all” against his will?

Still, many students do stand up and say the words. Whether they understand the words’ meanings and importance or whether they’re just doing what they’ve been socially conditioned to do, I cannot say. But the bottom line is that on any given school day, millions of students will rise and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and nobody – not the ACLU, not the United Nations, not the dark forces of Political Correctness – is breaking down the school doors to demand that they stop. There’s no other way to judge this meme: it’s just wrong.