The Coastal Post - September, 1995

Flag Desecration


In reply to those who advocate a constitutional amendment to protect the American flag from desecration, I would like to address several important points.

Is flag desecration a form of speech? Does it communicate a message, idea, point of view, expression of an attitude?

In a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote, "I view the burning of our national flag as conduct — not speech..."

How can you separate these two? Does not all speech involve conduct? When I write a letter, dial or touch-button a phone, carry a placard, of even move my lips and tongue, am I not engaged in conduct?

The flag is a symbol, a tool of communication. Its function is to speak, to convey a meaning. Other flags do the same. A Jolly Roger or a flag of truce are clearly speech messages.

The American flag is commonly held to communicate an attitude of respect, adoration, or even worship, of a nation — the United States of America. Such attitudes are shared, and intended to be communicated, by those who display the flag.

There are those who, for whatever reason, do not share these positive sentiments. Focusing on certain negative aspects of their idea of a nation, such as preparations and actions for killing and destruction, plundering and polluting of the environment, concentrated wealth and power, oppression and neglect of the poor and suffering, these dissenters feel an urgent need to communicate their negative feelings. How more effectively than through the common communicating tool, the symbol of that nation?

Senator Feinstein contends that state laws preventing the burning or defacing of our nation's flag have "not prevented anyone from speaking out, even against the the strongest possible terms." Yet is not flag desecration one of the strongest possible terms of speaking out?

Our First Amendment proclaims that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."

Any law that forbids the "desecration" of anything is, in effect, protecting the consecration of that thing. (Webster's unabridged dictionary defines desecration as "divesting of sacred or hallowed character.") Is this not clearly "an establishment of religion?"

The nation, according to this religion, is more sacred than human life itself. The nation commands our highest loyalty, and is (through its political and economic leadership) our supreme authority. In effect the nation has become defined — a god.

The religion of nationalism is intrinsically, and in effect, the modern equivalent of the ancient cults of Moloch, Bael, and other idols, fashioned by humans from wood, stone and brass.

Like these, the nation is human-made, though created by human minds rather than hands. Like these ancient gods, it demands blood sacrifice (in wars) of young men, women and children. Like these, this religion is attended and promoted by a"priesthood" that benefits from blood sacrifices — arms merchants and those corporate owners that support them.

Worship of a particular nation (religion, race, culture, etc.) and of the nation's flag as more sacred than human life lies at the bottom of all the wars that today are wreaking such massive killing, destruction and suffering.

Have we no other choice in terms of human security?

Look at our states. Each one has a flag, but not a sacred flag, not a flag associated with mass killing.

Do our states maintain armies and monstrous engines of destruction to be used against other states? What of the provinces of Canada, departments of France, laender of Germany, counties of Great Britain?

All these are at peace with each other because their citizens identify themselves with a larger community — the nation.

When the time comes—better soon than later — that the people of the nations identify themselves with a larger community, with some form of world federation dedicated to the well-being of all humans and the health of our environment, then and then only can humanity's dream of peace become a reality.

Either publicly burning, or forcibly preventing such burning, endows the flag with more importance than is appropriate to a human-created design and color combination.

An Earth flag, on the other hand, symbolizes and embraces the whole Human Family and our shared home — Mother Earth.