Column: Where freedom truly burns

By Jeff Myczek

With the 2006 mid-term elections coming up soon, it is becoming clear that the Republican Party is facing an increasingly difficult task in maintaining their majorities in both houses of Congress. Iraq has become a quagmire, President Bush’s approval rating continues to sink to all-time lows, and many feel as though the GOP is riddled with corruption and has lost its way. Facing these challenges to electoral success this November, has reported that Republican strategists have chosen to drum up the values platform, promising voters (among other things) that if they win the election this fall, they will propose a constitutional amendment which would make burning the American flag illegal.

The proposal of a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning is nothing new, as it has been brought to a vote in both houses of Congress several times in the past. The issue is relatively popular (especially among the conservative GOP base Republican strategists are attempting to turn out to vote this fall) and usually receives moderate bi-partisan support.

The question we must then ask is: why would one want to make flag burning illegal? Aside from attempting to score some major political points, proponents of the amendment argue that the American flag, the ultimate symbol of freedom throughout the world, must be protected. According to amendment supporters, the countless soldiers who have died under that flag must not have their sacrifice for that symbol defaced, and therefore the law must defend it.

Does preventing the burning of the flag, however, really protect freedom? Is not the idea behind the symbol of our flag that people have the right to exercise their freedoms uninhibited, even if it offends many? Burning American flags is not a popular idea, and many (including myself) would never do it. Protecting the rights of freedom, however, is not always popular, and if exercising freedom were easy it wouldn’t need to be defended.

We must not be hypocrites when it comes to professing freedom of speech for all. By banning a method of expression we are no better than those in the world who buried their heads in the sand in the face of angry Muslims “offended” by those who exercised their right to freedom of speech by simply drawing pictures of the Prophet Mohammed. This self-stifling of free speech is also seen in Europe, where the expression of “cultural taboos” can land one in prison, even when these countries profess to protect freedom of speech. Burning the flag is not an affront to freedom – it is the ultimate expression of it.

Furthermore, burning a flag does not destroy what it stands for. At the base level, our flag is no different than that of Iran. Both are pieces of cloth dyed with various colors in different patterns. What makes ours different, however, are the ideas behind the flag we fly. Our ideas, symbolized by our flag, are freedom of speech and religion and equality under the law. Those of Iran are religious extremism, theocracy and the repression of those who do not conform to their belief system. The cloth flags of these countries represent little in themselves – it is the ideas behind them that provide them with their meaning. Unlike the fabric of a flag, ideas can never be burned.

As tempting as it might be to believe that banning flag burning is defending freedom, we must realize that the flag means nothing if the ideas it was founded on are destroyed in its name. The flag of our nation does not, and never should, represent the suppression of any type of free speech for any reason, regardless of how someone might be offended by what someone says or does. Our freedom does not burn when a flag burns, but rather when those who prevent its burning take away the freedom it represents.

Jeff Myczek is a junior in LAS. His column appears on Thursdays. He can be reached at [email protected]