1999-11-10 / Editorials

It’s Not The Flag, Stupid

by patrick h. brady

Its the Constitution! The 1989 Supreme Court decision defining flag burning as free speech should outrage every American, flag burners as well as those who love Old Glory. That decision defiled our sacred Constitution and we should all be upset whether or not we care one whit about the flag.

The Constitution is our only protection against tyranny. It is the source of our virtue as a people, a virtue which gives us the strength to protect and defend ourselves from any external enemy on this planet. Our Constitution is also the source of most of the freedom in the world, paid for by the blood and sweat of our veterans who swore to protect and defend it.

Those veterans did not swear allegiance to a king or a queen or a dictator or a party, they swore allegiance to the Constitution, a set of values. The values in the Constitution reflect the ideals and vision of our Founders, ideals that are timeless, ideals that should not be hacked away by passing political hacks. Calling flag burning "free speech" profanes the Founding Fathers’ definition of free speech, a vital element of the first Amendment to our Constitution.

Our Founders knew that if the people were to replace autocrats and properly exercise their responsibility as rulers, they needed to be politically able to freely express themselves verbally and in writing. And they needed to be free to peacefully assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The Founders were dedicated to rational and reasoned rhetoric. They knew that when rhetoric failed, violence reigned. They never intended that any one be allowed to substitute hateful violent conduct for reasonable rational speech.

Burning the flag is not rhetoric, it is not reasonable or rational and it has no part in a peaceful assembly. Only tyrants who are unable to properly articulate their cause, but seek power at any cost, take their venom out on helpless people or objects. In truth, personal power is their only cause.

If the founders feared anything they feared the tyrannical power of a minority indifferent to the wishes of the majority. We have seen the terrors of such power in the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung.

But if you can control the First Amendment, the Constitution is yours and so is power. The flag burners are not the enemies or our constitution, it is those who call flag burning free speech, who seek to control our constitution, who are the real enemies.

One minority which stands out in its efforts to distort the Constitution is the American Civil Liberties Union. Their values are alien to the founders and so it is not surprising that they would use their millions of dollars and packs of lawyers to bully and sue Boy Scouts, parents, teachers, praying athletes and people of faith while defending atheists, pornographers and flag burners.

Truth is a virtue and that word has no meaning in their definition of the Constitution so it is not surprising that they would lie to achieve their ends. They have actually accused me of advocating "Re-education camps" for flag burners. I have never used that term. Their intent is to confuse and terrorize good and faithful citizens by tying the vast majority of Americans who believe they should have the right to protect their flag, that flag burning is not free speech, with the horrors of communist and Nazi prison camps.

These same people have compared those who would protect Old Glory with Nazis. They also compared a protected American flag, protected according to the will of the people, to flags protected according to the will of tyrants.

These people live in a values vacuum and are certainly lost to the ideals of our Founders; but worse, they are distorting the constitution to achieve their political agenda.

Consider: The California supreme court, in breaking new ground on free speech, has ruled that courts may legally ban the use of racial slurs on the job. In response the ACLU said the decision was appropriate and did not represent a threat to freedom of speech. They opined that it is not a novel idea to say that the courts are able to enjoin illegal activity, even when part of that illegal activity involves free speech. Really?

Burning the flag was illegal in Texas when the courts decided it was free speech. The ACLU went on to say that "even though the First Amendment protects free speech, it does not protect the right to make terrorist threats, commit fraud, threaten someone, or commit extortion." Nor does it protect flag burning. That statement mirrors the CFA’s argument for the Flag Amendment.

Hypocritically, on flag burning the ACLU has continually stressed that an essential aspect of freedom of expression is the right to choose precisely the manner in which one’s ideas are conveyed, even if, indeed, especially if, the manner chosen is deliberately provocative or offensive. What else are racial slurs? They are enthralled with Justice Harlan Stone’s words: "It is often true that one man’s vulgarity is another man’s lyric." A racial slur is not a lyric and neither is flag burning and neither should be protected by the First Amendment.

If the majority of the people of California want to ban racial slurs, they should have that right. If the majority of the people in the United States want to ban flag burning, they should have that right. But no one has the right to say that either is protected under the First Amendment; or worse, to say one is and one isn’t.

Consistency is vital in our interpretation of the Constitution and the ACLU has clearly contradicted itself on racial slurs and flag burning. They have the arrogance to call themselves the "enforcement arm of the Constitution." Their objective is to not to enforce the Constitution but to propagate their political agenda by distorting the Constitution. Our Constitution is savaged when it becomes captive to anyone’s agenda, political or otherwise.

General Phillip Sheridan once said: "I never discussed the Constitution much, and I never made many speeches upon it, but I have done a great deal of fighting for it." How different the ACLU with their hordes of lawyers, few of whom have shed one drop of blood for the Constitution, from people like Sheridan. The Constitution must occasionally be nourished by the blood of patriots, like Sheridan who are, and should be, the enforcement arm of our constitution. Patriots will fight for the Constitution of Sheridan. I can’t speak for all, but I would not shed one drop of blood for the Constitution of the ACLU.

Abraham Lincoln warned, "Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties."

However we may differ on flag burning, we must agree that we are what we are because of our Constitution, as envisioned by the Founders, not the ACLU, and we should be outraged by those who seek to mutilate that sacred document for their own selfish ends.

Patrick H. Brady is chairman of the board for the Citizens Flag Alliance. He is a Medal of Honor recipient for his actions in Vietnam. He is a retired U.S. Army Major General and makes his home in Sumner, Washington.

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