"Slarrow" refers to the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" from Hamlet's soliloquy. Here are the chronicles of such darts and whatever attempt there may be to take arms against such a sea of troubles.

Location: Ozarks, United States

Monday, July 03, 2006

Flags, Finances, and Free Speech

I wrote another little piece for my local paper again. They were lionizing the people who voted against the flag-burning amendment and the New York Times for publishing the SWIFT info. It irritated me, so I wrote this bit which made it into the paper yesterday.

Restricting flag-burning does not equal censorship

I understand the [local paper] has a vested interest in veneration of the First Amendment. Perhaps that's why it was so hysterical in its recent editorial.

First, is burning the flag an act of speech or destruction of an object? If it is speech, why must this gesture of contempt for our country be protected while true political speech is restricted by campaign finance laws? The Supreme Court has permitted the regulation of who can say what when about particular political candidates, yet it has enshrined the utterly juvenile expression of anger and spite towards one's fellow citizens embodied in the burning of an American flag.

To begin to correct this ridiculous situation is hardly shredding the First Amendment. Moreover, it is Congress' right and duty to correct another branch of government when it seems to have overstepped its bounds, which is the purpose of this amendment.

If, on the other hand, burning a flag is destruction of an object instead of speech per se, what is the difference between burning a flag and burning a cross? If making distinctions based on the content of the speech is taboo, on what basis ought we to treat these two acts differently?

In truth, this editorial does not defend the First Amendment. It defends-—indeed, it sanctifies—-a particular interpretation by a particular branch of government. What Congress is doing is challenging that interpretation and seeking to overrule the judicial branch through the Constitutionally designated process of amendment. While I have no particular love for this amendment, it is reinforcing the Constitutional process, not destroying it. Perhaps the [local paper] ought to return to civics class and relearn the importance of the doctrine of separation of powers.

Of greater significance, though, is the irresponsible and dangerous act of the New York Times in publishing information about how we catch terrorists. It is disingenuous of the [local paper] to call comments by the president and others attacks on the "freedom of the press." Rather, they were attacks on the sheer arrogance and recklessness of specific press organs. The New York Times is not enshrined in our Constitution as the holy mouth of the people, nor is chastising the Gray Lady the first step toward the Jeffersonian nightmare of government without newspapers. The [local paper] is amusing in its hyperbolic overreaction.

Let's be clear here. Our government, legally and with safeguards in place, has been tracking the financial movements of terrorists (something The New York Times recommended they do several years back, actually). The Times, through illegal leaks, told the world how we do it. What the [local paper] disgracefully called an "ultimate act of patriotism" is like a guy telling the crack dealer in the next apartment that the cops are coming. While the Times didn't tell the enemy where to find our troops, they surely told them how to hide from us.

Finally, I am insulted by the [local paper]'s childish simplification and condescension regarding this matter. Again, I understand it has a vested interest in making the freedom of the press seem mystic. But to imply that a flag-burning amendment is the first step to dictatorship supported by buffoons ignorant of American history and that a newspaper's pathological desire to print secrets required to defend our country against enemies is heroic is fantastically asinine. We were hardly one vote away from a jackboot thugocracy, and it takes determined stupidity to claim that amending the Constitution using the process it defines is equivalent to setting the thing on fire.

A patriot doesn't spit in the eyes of his country and fellow citizens because he thinks he can get away with it. A patriot commits himself through love at cost to the ideas and people that are his country. As we celebrate our founding, I invite people to examine the actions of the various players and decide for themselves who is really expressing patriotism.

Addendum: I added "is heroic" in my second-to-last paragraph to my super-long sentence because I erred in my original piece; I got too carried away with my thought and forgot a clause. Also, for the record, I abhor both cross-burning and flag-burning and have no problem banning both. (Although, truth be told, I'm not devastated the amendment didn't pass; what I object to is the presumption that there is no legitimate case to be made and that banning flag-burning destroys the First Amendment.) Happily, the problem only arises when you try to Constitutionally allow one but not the other.