Not-the-American Flag


Once again, the anti-flag burning amendment has passed the U.S. House with a required two-thirds vote. After six previous failed attempts in the Senate, there’s the possiblity that the amendment might actually pass this time. If it gets Congressional approval, it goes to the states for approval.

And yet again, I’m puzzled as to what this amendment might actually achieve. That politicians love the American flag? Check. That’s pretty obvious.

Is solving flag-desecration a burning issue (sorry for the pun)? Statistics for years have shown most people don’t consider flag-burning to be a pressing issue especially when weighed against the First Amendment right to free speech. This amendment does gag free speech — by only allowing the positive use of the flag as a symbol.

Of course, the proposed amendment gives Congress the ability to draw up rules regarding how Old Glory will be treated. I’ve always been intrigued how far these restrictions would go.

Let’s say they make it illegal to burn a flag. What about a photo of the flag? What about a photo of a photo of a flag? A crudely drawn description of the flag? What about a flag that has only 12 stripes? It’s not the American flag ? which has 13 stripes. (BTW, the flag at the top of this post is a 12-striped flag. Please feel free to download and use as you see fit). I call it “Not-the-American Flag” ™.

When you get down to it, no matter how hard they try to pass these rules, there’s going to be serious challenges to enforcing them. Although they’re trying to regulate a symbol, people wishing to express themselves through the use of the symbol will find other symbols to use.

The scary thing is — If people are willing to place restrictions on how we express ourselves with a symbol, would they be willing to place restrictions on how we use a symbol of a symbol? Where does it end?

I poised these questions to my Congressman around 2000, the currently embattled Randy “Duke” Cunningham (who is the amendment’s primary sponsor). Sadly, I didn’t hear back from the representative or his staff.

Interestingly, President George Bush was photographed during last year’s election placing his signature on American flags for the Republican faithful. Surely that would be desecration of the flag, right? After all, what’s good for the rabblerousers is surely good for the president, right?