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SAN JOSE: In the past century American citizens have witnessed the public disrespect, disdain, desecration, and destruction of the Stars and Stripes, the flag of the United States of America. More recently football fans have been dismayed and enraged by the controversy over players insisting upon making their own controversial political statements by refusing to honor America’s national anthem, or the flag itself.
Taking a Knee: Descrating the Flag
Indeed there has been great controversy and a substantial loss of revenue in the wake of such “free speech” demonstrations. The NFL leadership eventually brought out their new “rules of engagement” for the disruptive or contentious players.
Yet, it is likely this current debacle will linger on because it gets to the heart of the very freedoms underpinning the Land of the Free. In fact, the flag has been desecrated in ways that prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in as early as 1907.
The case at that time was Halter vs. Nebraska, and in several other flag desecration cases over the early years, statutes were designed to prohibit burning the flag, or desecrating the flag in other ways, or in even disrespecting Old Glory.
However, in the 1960s, issues that erupted across the nation such as the fight for civil rights, or the public protests over America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, led to more flag burning incidents and more challenges to the early rulings. So the issue has already been proceeding for decades.
SCOTUS and the Flag in Court
In 1968, a couple of famous court cases involving the burning of the U.S. flag wound up before the U.S. Supreme Court once again. Initially, Congress reacted to the burning of the flag in protest against the Vietnam War and passed the Federal Flag Desecration Law. However, in 1969, the Supreme Court ruled to extend First Amendment protection to the burning of the flag.
Again in 1989, the Supreme Court upheld this earlier ruling in Texas v. Johnson, and stated that neither the U.S. nor state governments can prohibit or punish anyone for the desecration of a U.S. flag because the action is viewed as an expression of speech, even if no words are expressed, viewed as an act of symbolic speech, and protected by the First Amendment.
For these reasons, the American flag was burned over and over again since, and more recently in 2016, during riots and protests against Donald Trump’s appearances at his presidential campaign rallies. Antifa, the brown-shirt type organization created by covert operatives of the “Progressive” or “Obamantor faction” of the “Democratic” Party to generate chaos and societal fear, is supportive of members who burn American flags.
Coupled with the football players disrespecting the American flag, it almost seems as if it is the “new normal.” Yet, when people act out by disrespecting, desecrating, or even burning Old Glory, what is it truly expressing?
The right to disrespect a symbol and a person
Obviously, and rightly so, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to protect the right of citizens to freely express their discontent, disrespect, or hatred of the American flag. All Americans enjoy the freedom of the right of expression. But that means all Americans enjoy those rights. So, they have the right to express their discontent or disrespect of those who disrespect the flag.
Earlier this year, controversy erupted prior to the Super Bowl when NFL leadership made the decision to stifle a group of military veterans who wanted to run an ad that contained a message featuring the hashtag “PleaseStand” as it showed military veterans saluting the Stars and Stripes.
At the time, AMVETS national commander Marion Polk wrote in a letter to Commissioner Roger Goodell:
“Freedom of speech works both ways. We respect the rights of those who choose to protest, as these rights are precisely what our members have fought — and in many cases died — for. But imposing corporate censorship to deny that same right to those veterans who have secured it for us all is reprehensible and totally beyond the pale.”
The NFL weathered the storm of backlash from fans who decided not to attend the football games, but it definitely hurt as their 2017 financial losses show. Yet, Flag Day is a great opportunity for reflection on the flag and the values of the Land of the Free.
The AMVET commander, Mr. Polk, is right when he states that freedom of speech works both ways. And of course, the NFL can reserve the right to “edit” ads, and players have the right to make political statements to captive audiences. The real issue is the trampling of perceived “rights” protected under the First Amendment.
Certainly, American veterans deserve, perhaps more than any, to have their freedom of speech honored. In the case of the rejected AMVETS ad, there was little respect offered to simple words of encouragement to “please stand” for the playing of the National Anthem.
Does the Star Spangled Banner still wave?
Yet, does Freedom of Speech still work both ways in America? Does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave over veterans willing to give their lives so that others may live in relative freedom? Will that Star Spangled Banner continue to wave over the prominent athletes refusing to stand like genuine citizens during the playing of the National Anthem?
In light of the orchestrated attack upon foundational American values in ways that target the flag, it is a serious concern of many Americans. Nevertheless, the prerequisite for understanding the meaning behind the flag and its value would be a propaganda free understanding of U.S. history.
Intelligent, reasonable people understand that the U.S. flag was born before the very existence of the U.S. government. The stars and stripes always represented the people of America, intertwined with the genuine symbol of the struggle of a determined people to be free. The red and white stripes represent the original thirteen colonies and the stars were meant to represent each new state that entered the union.
Fundamentally, the flag, as originally designed, represented the unity of people fighting for freedom.
The United States government was only formally established after colonists won the War for Independence, signing a peace treaty with Great Britain. While the chronology may seem inconsequential, the timeline actually reflects deep significance.
It should be remembered that on June 14, 1777, the historic day that the Second Continental Congress passed an official resolution aimed at the creation of an official flag for the nation, there was no legitimate government — it was only a loosely knit band of men and boys who dared to fight for freedom and a group of bold and brilliant men who took upon themselves the authority to pass their own precepts for freedom.
Therefore, to a greater extent, the U.S. flag can be fundamentally understood as the symbol of the unity of brave and brilliant people willing to offer their lives for the sake of creating a nation of free people. It continues to serve as the symbol of the unity of brave and brilliant people willing to offer their lives for the sake of freedom around the world.
On the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted, July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress also established a committee that would create a seal for the new nation.
The Great Seal was created, accepted by Congress, which formally adopted the symbol on June 20, 1782. The Secretary of the Continental Congress, Charles Thomson, then presented the seal to Congress. At the time, he explained:
“The colors… are those used in the flag of the United States of America. White signifies purity and innocence. Red, hardiness & valor, and Blue… signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice.”
Ronald Reagan proclaimed 1986 as “The year of the Flag,” and stated that
“The colors of our flag signify the qualities of the human spirit we Americans cherish,”
Certainly, the design of the flag has long been recognized as a symbol of “We the People.” This deeper symbolism stands out more than the flag representing the government.
Essentially, dishonoring, disrespecting, and the flagrant desecration of the flag has more to do with the dishonoring and disrespect of a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Especially in this day, many concerned citizens can see the televised reports that the flag is now easily seen as an object of scorn.
But, the bottom line is that it is the people’s government being scorned and disrespected and the people’s symbols that are being desecrated. This perspective can be empowering to those who care.
The Flag’s meaning in 1812 and 2018 are similar
In this time, as U.S. symbols and American values are under attack. The attack, though subtle and insidious, it can be viewed as comparable to the time when Francis Scott Key witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry. Baltimore was threatened to be destroyed by the British, as they had trashed and burned the United States’ Capitol in the War of 1812. Key was an ordinary citizen; yet, he was deeply moved to write his impressions as a witness to the 25-hour bombing and deliberate destruction of the fortress protecting Baltimore.
Key shared his heart in the “Defence of Fort McHenry,” his poem of surviving the intense shelling.
Today, one can ask: Are Americans up to defending the flag in 2018? To defending the self-evident truths and bedrock values at the foundation of our nation?
Five or ten years from now will the question be answered affirmatively:
“Does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave”?