SAN JOSE, Calif., June 14, 2016 – At the beginning of June in San Jose, anti-Trump rioters were reported as burning campaign hats and other items of the presumptive GOP nominee. However, it was also reported that the rioters burned at least one American flag.
This is not considered unusual anymore, as the United States Supreme Court has ruled 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. It is viewed as an action of symbolic speech, and protected by the First Amendment. Such a law has been in effect since the decision in Texas v. Johnson passed down from the high court in 1989.
Such as it is, the law is established to protect the freedom of speech that the Founders died for, and the other freedoms that brave patriots died for throughout American history. So be it. But the law thus permits the disrespect of all American citizens because the flag has long been a symbol as well – a symbol of the American people.
Such a law allows for two fundamental views that are easily perceived when properly understood.
First, the U.S. Supreme Court seems to value the First Amendment (at least the justices in 1989 did), but the limited perspective is that the action of the desecration of the flag was directed at the government. Second, it is clear that from such passage, the Supreme Court justices placed more value upon the law that was designed to protect the people than they placed upon the people.
Essentially, more than the U.S. government, the U.S. flag can be fundamentally understood as the symbol of the people and the unity of people. Certainly, the design of the flag has long been recognized as a symbol of the people: The red and white stripes represent the original thirteen colonies, and the stars represent each new state that entered the Union.
Essentially, this symbolism stands out more than the flag as the representation of the government. Thus the desecration of the flag has more to do with the dishonoring and disrespect of the people – especially if this is a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
More importantly, while the chronology may seem inconsequential, the timeline actually reflects a deeper 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.
The birth of the flag was more a genuine representation of the unity of the people in their desire for freedom from tyranny than an official representation of an actual government. The birth of the flag came first, and it was ultimately followed by the adoption of the guiding principles of the first government. And, though 1777 was the same year that the Continental Congress approved the Articles of Confederation, the basic document that organized the revolutionary government of the fledgling nation, it was not until 1781 that the colonies finally ratified the Articles. Then, the United States of America officially became the self-proclaimed government of the people.
Nevertheless, it was not until 1783, with the peace treaty between Great Britain and France, that the U.S. became an officially recognized nation within the community of nations, a “new constellation” among the rest of the constellations. Thus, the resolution of the Continental Congress to create a flag for this new nation, which had been conceived in liberty, provided for the flag as the official emblem of the country long before the U.S. government became officially established and internationally recognized.
June 14, 1777, was the historic day that Old Glory was born, and among other directives the decree stated: “the flag of the United States be 13 stripes alternate red and white; that the Union be 13 stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” Today, June 14 is recognized as Flag Day, as Old Glory deserves to have a birthday! Flag Day in the United States, is the celebration of the birthday of the Stars and Stripes. Sadly, for most Americans, Flag Day does not to their list of favored holidays to observe, like Independence Day or Memorial Day. Most Americans may not even realize Flag Day exists – or even care!
For Americans who love the nation and the ideals for which it stands, Flag Day should be a day to remember. Through America’s history, though the flag changed over time, it still remained the Stars and Stripes and it still remained the symbol of the union of a free people. As the people grew, the nation grew, and the Stars and Stripes became entwined with the history of the people’s struggle for freedom and self-determination.
The flag has represented so much to so many throughout our nation’s turbulent history. It still represents so much to so many today; yet there are those who understand little about the genuine value of the flag of the United States. For all it has been through, and for all this Land of the Free truly represents, Old Glory deserves to have at least a single day when Americans can reflect on its genuine value.
May it continue to be the flag of “us” – “we the people” — and may that Star-spangled Banner still inspire… “long may it wave / Oe’r the land of the free and the home of the brave…”