I realize this may not be the most popular opinion, but the burning of the American Flag is a perfectly acceptable – and important – form of free speech.
Before you go off and burn the paper in your hand or smashing your device onto the concrete, hear me out.
Personally, I am deeply offended when I see someone burn the American flag. Inside of me, I discover a deeply visceral response, my pulse quickening, and my heart racing. You might as well spit on me. On the other side, the mere sight of the American flag flying above has brought me to tears of swelling pride more times than I can count.
But isn’t that the point of the flag burner? Isn’t the action of the intentional destruction of a deeply shared symbol designed to provoke a powerful reaction by others? Does the burning of the flag, an emotionally terrifying as it is to some, make the action a perfect tool to motivate and inspire discussion?
In the United States our broadly reaching freedom of speech is among the most powerful symbols of our inspired form of government. The concept that the government cannot take action against you for stating your opinions of their performance is one of the bedrock elements of what makes America the envy of the world. Go ahead, try publicly berating a government in the other 95% of the world and see how that works out for you.
I also believe our inspired concept of freedom of speech is the lynchpin that holds our republic together. Without free and effective tool of self-expression for the citizens to publicly disagree with the government, you can make a strong argument that our other rights would be greatly discounted to meaningless window dressing. Public disagreement and discourse is a necessary element of a functioning and evolving society and government.
The Supreme Court, for the record, is right on protecting flag burning under the shelter of freedom of speech. The action of flag burning is generally taken in the spirit of political speech. To ban the action would be an indefensible direct restraint of one’s ability to raise the attention of another in order to bring discussion to life.
Furthermore, one of the widely accepted manners of retiring an American flag includes the burning a worn or tattered flag during a highly symbolic ceremony. Again, the flag is being treated with reverence as an emblem of a government and peoples. To ban the burning of the flag for political purposes would run counter to the highly respected practice of retiring the flag in this revered manner. The court would find itself squarely in the crosshairs of unquestionably restricting political free speech.
The burning of the American flag as a political statement disturbs me deeply. But, regardless of the pain I feel, the action reinforces my belief that only the strongest of a nation’s people would allow such powerful statement stand as a example of freedom for the world to see.