A Blaze of Old Glory


Well, the Congress is at it again. We’re in the middle of a war in Iraq that isn’t going quite as well as predicted, and there’s no end in sight. We’ve still got troops dying in Afghanistan. North Korea is manufacturing nuclear weapons in shoe boxes. Iran probably is, too. With the industrialization of China and India, we’re facing serious energy problems. Guantanamo Bay continues to do whatever it’s doing, without meaningful supervision from Congress. Our ports remain easy targets for terrorists and other ne’er-do-wells. Pension plans are making giant sucking sounds. And the country’s health costs are still skyrocketing, leaving many Americans behind.

So, naturally, the Congress has been talking about flag burning.

Can anyone say “political grandstanding?” How about “pandering to your base?” Is flag burning really a major problem? Are they being burned so fast the Chinese laborers Wal-Mart pays to manufacture them are unable to make them fast enough to keep them on the shelves? Come on. There are always more Chinese available to work for a dollar an hour. Admittedly, I do see flags burned now and again on the news. But that’s in other countries. Are the Republicans in Congress aware that their legislation won’t affect what goes on in those countries? (Or do they know something about the president’s plans that we don’t know? Mergatroids!)

The last time this came up in a serious way (if the current action on the issue can be called “serious”) was about ten or twelve years ago. I feel the same way about it now as I did then. For one, it’s a silly thing for Congress to be spending its time on. For another, it brings up the whole ‘can there be such a thing as an unconstitutional constitutional amendment?’ question, since the Supreme Court has long since ruled that flag burning is protected as political speech. For another, if this actually becomes law, I’m going to burn a flag.

My main beef with these periodic attempts at stamping out flag burning is that they always insist on calling it “flag desecration.” Desecration? How can you desecrate something that never was sacred to begin with? And when did it become the federal government’s job to decide what is sacred? If they can decide that, then they can with equal justification decide what is not sacred. And if they can legislate the sacredness of flags, they can legislate the sacredness of other things. A flag is a piece of cloth. If Congress can tell us it’s sacred, maybe they can also finally settle the sacredness of the Shroud of Turin (won’t that be a relief?) or a Jewish prayer shawl. A flag is a symbol. If they can decide it’s sacred, maybe they can also decide whether or not the cross is sacred. (And which version? Is the cross of the western churches sacred, but the cross of the eastern Orthodox churches not?) Maybe we can create a whole new administrative department to go around and decide whether this or that appearance of the Virgin Mary in a bowl of pudding is really sacred or just pudding.

The fact is, the 1st amendment makes sacredness absolutely none of the state’s business. Sacredness is a concept that belongs wholly to the realm of religion. Adherents of the various belief systems decide whether they find a thing sacred or not. Congress may not tell people a thing is sacred.

Some would say the flag is sacred — in a purely secular sense, whatever the heck that means — because of the blood that’s been sacrificed on the battlefield for it. I remain unconvinced that anybody ever died for the flag. We speak that way sometimes, but it’s just a shorthand. The flag is a symbol. People don’t die for symbols themselves; they die for what the symbols stand for. People die on the battlefield not for a piece of fabric, but for what it represents to them — comrades, home, family, their way of life.

The Amish took beatings and went to jail during WWII for refusing to pledge allegiance to the flag. To me, that’s sacred.

And While I’m At It…

Also unacceptable to me on both religious and constitutional grounds are things like:

  • “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance
  • “In God We Trust” on our money
  • “so help me God” in oaths of office (unless a voluntary expression of that person’s religious beliefs, and even then I don’t know why it needs to be vocalized rather than thought)
  • tax deductions for contributions to churches
  • declarations of national days of prayer
  • the existence of Senate and House chaplains

All of them are attempts by the state to borrow, for their own profane purposes, the authority or credibility of the sacred.


21 Responses to “A Blaze of Old Glory”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Here’s guessing “desecration” is used not so much for its accuracy as for its button-pushability.

    Inaccurate though it may be, it gets people’s blood boiling. So the word, much like this issue itself, is just more bluster.


  2. Greg S Says:

    Wow! I didn’t think this was possible! I agree with Juvenal on something.

    I’m not sure that I arrive at my conclusion on the issue through the same reasoning, but I don’t agree that we need a constitutional amendment against flag burning. There I said it: I agree with Juvenal.

    To me, making flag burning an act of desecration is moving the “state” one step closer to imposing its own “godship” on its citizens. And, is it a real big problem?

    At our Republican victory party in November 2004, the subject of flag burning came up. The Democratic incumbant had used it repeatedly as an issue. My point then, now, and even a dozen years ago is: why?

    Now this:

    “For another, if this actually becomes law, I’m going to burn a flag.

    I disagree with.

    I find the act of burning a flag (mostly by another American) an offensive act. It’s not one I’m going to fight over (unless it’s a Texas flag, in which case I might get a bit redneck … just kidding…), but I am offended.

    If burning a flag offends me, then it must offend some other people. In fact it must offend some people so bad that they have raised sufficient rucus as to cause an amendment to be proposed.

    I don’t think I’m going to do something that offends people that bad. It kind of flies in the face of what Paul says in the last half of Romans Ch. 14, you know? While Paul is talking about food, he could just as easily be talking about burning the flag. I don’t think it would be a “love your neighbor” kind of thing to do.

    With the exception of tax deductions for contributions to churches, I disagree with the other litany. The tax deduction question has to do with the 501c(3) issue which is a whole ‘nother ball game, so to speak.

    Poupon the Grey

    PS: That really happened to the Amish?

  3. Joe Longhorn Says:

    Here is just one example of flag abuse (since you object so strenuously to the term “desecration”) that has occurred on U.S. soil.

    For your “main beef”, why do you latch on to just one definition of “sacred”? There are accepted, non-religious definitions of the word “sacred”. One of the accepted definitions is “worthy of respect; venerable.” I think that fits our country’s flag just fine.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    A buddy of mine, Guru Junior, told me about this blog and suggested I read your columns for a good laugh and perspective on how libs. view the world. Opposition research, I think it’s called in his line of work, same reason we watch West Wing and some other shows/movies. I gotta say I’m amused. The substance of your column isn’t worth commenting on, except to say, please keep it up. The more you guys talk/blog like this the easier it is for my guys to win elections. Oh, and Coolhand rocks!

  5. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Ouch. That was a rather hateful comment.

    At least I love you, Juvenal!

  6. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Oh, to the article…

    I agree with Juvenal (and Greg) that the flag burning legislation is misguided. It is, without a doubt, political grandstanding.

    As to “sacred” things, I haven’t thought about flag burning in that way, but your argument is worth consideration. I don’t know that our legal foundations involves deciding what is or is not venerable. Another thing to think about…

    And BTW, I wouldn’t burn a flag myself. I’m scared of fire.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    I’m pretty much convinced that everything these days — including the Religious Right, perhaps especially so — is political grandstanding.

    As to the earlier comment, anonymity is for wimps.


    Wednesday Housefly

  8. Martin Says:

    Hey there. I know a few of you fine patriots from way back in the day, and I read your posts from time to time. Thank you for thinking and taking time to articulate your thoughts.

    Let me just chime in on this sacredness issue. For adherents to civil religion, “desecration” is the appropriate term. For them, the flag may as well be the Shroud of Turin–those red stripes don’t just represent the blood of martyrs, they are that blood. Extending the Roman Catholic metaphor, Washington D.C. becomes Rome; the White House, Capitol Hill, and the Supreme Court play the Vatican’s role; and millions of pilgrims travel to worship at the shrines of Gettysburg, Rushmore, and Pearl Harbor every year. Before you accuse me of exaggeration, please consider the blurring of religion and civil religion. Since I’ve been home this summer, I’ve seen two prominent churches blurring the lines in my hometown–one conducted a week of services with nothing but patriotic music (implying worshiping God and worshiping the state go hand in hand); the other has posted a billboard declaring “For God and Country” over an enormous, waving flag. The name and address of the church itself are far less discernable yet announce this church consists of true believers not only in God but also in America. The flag is only a prominent symbol of a much larger issue. In our society, political dissent increasingly translates into heresy.

    Responding to “Guru Junior’s” protege, I’ll have to one-up Wed. Housefly. Anonymity is indeed the cloak of the weak and ineffectual. I’m sure John Hancock would be proud. I’ve also noticed that “the substance of your column isn’t worth commenting on” ploy somehow passes for legitimate dialogue among those who cannot express their own views or blindly adopt the opinions of pundits. If watching West Wing and “other shows” constitutes research, you guys have little to fear.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Finally, I think it is hilarious that “Wednesday Housefly” thinks I’m a wimp for not signing my name.

    Some might have caught the ironic, self-directed (attempted) humor in that post.

    Apparently it was lost on others.


  10. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I caught it. I was a little slow on catching your last post, however, but I eventually caught that one, too…

    And DeJon Redd (full name) gets snubbed again! Hey DeJon, I’ve got a great Cards/Cubs quote from my current book of choice, “Three Nights in August,” that I’ll send when the opportunity arises. Gotta go. Work to do, hurricane to avoid…

  11. Anonymous Says:

    Forgot to say that Anon & I agree on at least one thing: Coolhand does indeed rock.

    – Dubya

  12. Anonymous Says:

    Oh, that’s right wedfly is supposed to be the funny one. I couldn’t tell by reading his other columns. I keeed, I keeed. And who would have thought DeJon Redd was a real name? Really guys don’t take me so seriously. We Falcons should stick together.


  13. Soren Says:

    Dude, I’m generally very conservative, but I agree with you on this one.

    Is flag burning really a big problem in this country?

    However, just because people have right to do it, doesn’t mean that I don’t have the right to some “free speech” of my own. If I ever see anyone doing what those Muslim jerks did in NYC, I might have to go redneck on ’em (to use Greg C’s term).

    Al, do you remember years ago when some hippie idiot ran onto the outfield at Dodger stadium and tried to burn a flag? As he was pouring the lighter fluid on the flag, Rick Monday ran over and snatched up the flag, preventing him from burning it. The crowd went wild with applause for Monday.

    If that happened today, they would jump out of the stands and beat the crap out of the guy (well, maybe not in L.A., but don’t try it at Wrigley Field or Yankee Stadium).

  14. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Hey Soren, I do remember that!

    Since you’re here to join DeJon as Cubbie fans, I’ll go ahead and post the following quote from “Three Nights in August.”

    “The rivalry between the Cubs and Cardinals is probably the oldest and perhaps the best in baseball, no matter how the Red Sox and Yankees spit and spite at each other. That’s a tabloid-fueled soap opera about money and ego and sound bites. That’s a pair of bratty high-priced supermodels trying to trip each other in their stilettos on the runway. But the Cards-Cubs epic is about roots and geography and territorial rights. It’s entwined in the Midwestern blood and therefore refreshing and honest and even heroic.”

    Don’t ya love it?

  15. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Hey, if anyone noticed, I removed a comment. Some request anonymity for good reasons, and I promised to protect it best I can.

    Keeping my word,

  16. juvenal_urbino Says:

    >civil religion

    Precisely the diagnosis. Conservative churches in America, by and large, worship America at least as much as God. And, as you recognized, all of the things I mentioned are expressions of that civil religion. Disentangling God from America and Americanism is, I think, crucial. Just as disentangling God from nation and nationalism is crucial in other parts of the world. (Some of which Martin, if he’s who I think he is, is spending quite a bit of time in.)

  17. juvenal_urbino Says:

    >We Falcons should stick together.

    Falconry is for children.

  18. Anonymous Says:

    Hey Al,
    Sorry you had to remove my comment and it’s fine if you remove this ne as well after you read it. I meant no harm to wedfly. I’m new to this bogging stuff and was merely attempting some good natured ribbing over the previous anonymity comments. Didn’t mean to jam anyone up, especially if I was right and we’re all graduates from a certain Academy in Arkansas. Sincerest apologies.

  19. Al Sturgeon Says:

    No problems. Just did it to preserve a little anonymity for WedFly, that’s all.

    Several Academy grads involved here, but not all by any stretch. Oddly enough, a lot of the liberal thinking and/or defense of it comes from there. How’s that for interestingly ironic?

  20. wedfly Says:

    No problem here, either, Anon.

    We is coo’.

  21. Soren Says:

    That’s a great quote Al! I’m going to share it with my Cubs/Cards friends.


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