Nobody died for the flag, but for what it represents

April 03, 1995|By ROGER SIMON

Letter, calls and the roar of the crowd:

R. E. Johnson, Glen Burnie: The flag of America is a piece of cloth. It is ink printed on paper. It is an image on a TV screen or theater screen. All these things it is.

Your column of March 8 is symbolic of the mentality of a generation that has gotten off the elevator before reaching the main floor.

Your rambling narrative and overtly stupid rationale doesn't cut it. Before you make your own "journalistic law," perhaps you will note the attached copy of the "Code of Ethics for Display and Use of the American Flag." Note the federal law that imposes penalties for desecrating the flag.

These laws and penalties were not thought up by a bunch of illiterates, nor are they "dumb," nor were they an attempt to violate the "civil rights or liberties" of a bunch of bozos who sat on their fat a while the youth of America was dying in foreign lands. These are laws that were established to assure that our flag would always receive the respect and honor it deserves.

Before you spew forth any further journalistic trash, I suggest that you get copies of a photographic history of the First and Second World Wars, the Korean "conflict" and Vietnam.

Desecration of the flag, which you profess is no big thing, is to allow those who invoke their civil rights of free speech wantonly and crassly to spit directly into the faces, and memories, of families whose sons and daughters gave their all so that the flag would ever symbolize to all that: "I am freedom. . . . I am the spirit of those who died so that I may always wave in the winds of liberty."

COMMENT: Thanks for the sermonette, R. E., and let me wipe away a tear with my American flag handkerchief. . . . Oh, my God, that's flag desecration!

But let's do something really unfair and review the facts:

In 1984, some goober named Gregory Lee Johnson figured out a great way to get on TV: He burned a flag at the Republican National Convention in Dallas.

He was arrested and tried under a Texas law prohibiting flag desecration. But in 1989, the Supreme Court held that such laws violated the First Amendment.

And that is when all the laws and codes regarding proper flag display and treatment, which you still seem to think are the laws of the land, R. E., were rendered null and void.

To get around the Supreme Court ruling and to sound all nice and patriotic, Congress passed the Flag Protection Act, more narrowly defining flag desecration.

But in June 1990, the Supreme Court held in United States vs. Eichmann that the Flag Protection Act was unconstitutional.

Today, Congress is considering a constitutional amendment that states: "The Congress and the States shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the Flag of the United States."

But what is a flag? What is physical desecration?

You say, R. E., that a flag can be "ink printed on paper."

Well, let's say this newspaper prints a photograph or drawing of a flag. And at the end of the day, some reader uses this newspaper to wrap a fish or line a bird cage.

Wouldn't that be physical desecration of the flag under this new amendment? And shouldn't federal and state agents knock down his door and arrest him?

It is not easy, of course, to amend the Constitution. It is not supposed to be easy. Since the adoption of the Bill of Rights 204 years ago, Congress has sent only 24 amendments to the states for approval and only 17 of them have been ratified.

But don't get the impression that introducing a constitutional amendment in Congress is considered a serious business. It is not.

According to Susan Feeney, writing in the Dallas Morning News, approximately 10,744 amendments have been introduced in the history of Congress, and 65 have been offered since Jan. 4 of this year!

"Putting an amendment in the hopper," Feeney writes, "is as easy as issuing a news release."

And that is what this flag desecration amendment is: a big news release, so a bunch of windbags can issue forth on their patriotism.

And I dispute your contention, R. E., that men and women died for the flag. Nobody ever died for the flag. They died for what the flag represents: Freedom.

And that is what we must protect from self-righteous, self-serving and, yes, goofy amendments like this one.

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