Thursday, July 02, 2009

Honor the flag by not amending the constitution

Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Jul 2, 2009; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A

Celebrate flag, freedom it represents
Liberties taken for granted shouldn’t be given up easily

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

I had the honor recently of attending a flag retirement ceremony.

Before the flags were destroyed, the Scout master reminded us that what was about to occur was not a protest but a dignified end to flags too worn to be flown. As taps played, a group of Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts presented flag after flag for burning.

The next day, my son and a few of the younger Scouts accompanied the Scout master into the woods to find a suitable place to bury the remains. The lesson in patriotism he learned that weekend was well worth the extra mosquito bites.

As we approach our Independence Day it’s a good time to remember the reasons our flag is so important. It’s the symbol of our country, a country founded for freedom. In honoring our flag we honor our country and we honor its freedoms.

Too often, we take those freedoms for granted, especially the freedom of speech. How often have you heard someone say, “I’m for freedom of speech, but...?” And then they offer some rationale why someone else’s freedom of speech should be curtailed.

The excuses offered often sound reasonable, pragmatic, even patriotic. Then laws get passed curtailing free speech rights in political campaigns, in peaceful protests, and even in criticizing our government.

Some would even put the American flag above the freedoms it represents. They would ban any desecration of the flag, including burning the flag in protest. When the Supreme Court ruled that laws protecting the flag from this abuse were unconstitutional, efforts began to amend the constitution. In 2006, the effort fell short in the U.S. Senate by only one vote.

Unfortunately, for many senators it was an “easy” vote. After all, who wants to be against the American flag?

But what would constitute flag desecration? Local radio personality Vicki McKenna caught some flak when her radio program first began airing on WISN. As part of the promotion for the show, she put on the Internet a picture of herself draped in the flag. Get it? She was draping herself in the flag.

The humor of the photo was lost on many who began citing chapter and verse of the U.S. Flag Code.

As we drive around town this weekend, I wonder how many giant inflatable flags will be decorating lawns. How many improperly displayed flags without the proper 24-hour lighting will there be? How many people will be unfolding flags that were not properly folded when they were put away last year?

These are not people who are intentionally disrespecting the flag, any more than McKenna. Instead they are celebrating the importance of the flag and the feelings of patriotism it inspires.

I would hardly want them locked up and the key thrown away.

In protecting the flag, the symbol of our freedoms, too many of us would give freedom away in the name of patriotism. Part of free speech is to allow others to do and say things that are really unpopular, even unpopular to the point of discrediting their cause.

I can think of no more swift refutation of someone’s argument than their own action of taking a match to the American flag. Once that occurs, it’s likely their speech will fall upon deaf ears.

But it’s their right to make such a statement about themselves, their cause and our country. In the name of patriotism we should not try to suppress their speech.

In a recent op-ed piece for The Freeman supporting the proposed constitutional amendment, state Sen. Mary Lazich wrote, “Reflect upon the enormous significance of the Stars and Stripes and the many heroic Americans that gave so much defending its honor so that we may live in the greatest, freest country in the world.”

This weekend would be a great opportunity to do so, even as we respectfully reject Lazich’s and others’ calls to amend the constitution. For if we ever reach the day that a law or a constitutional amendment is really required to compel our respect for the flag and the country it stands for, we will have much bigger problems than a protester with a match.