June 23, 2005

by Joe Sobran

     Last year there were 141 incidents of flag-burning 
in the United States. A chilling statistic, you say?

     But those are just the ones that were =reported!= We 
have no way of knowing how many other flags people burned 
in their basements. The real number, from coast to coast, 
may be twice that high.

     While our brave men and women are defending our 
freedom overseas, hippies within our own borders are 
torching Old Glory and lighting their reefers from it! 
Right here in River City! We got trouble! Don't it just 
make your blood boil? Well, I should say!

     Such behavior sends a message, loud and clear, to 
terrorists everywhere: "Come and get us! We don't have 
the guts to fight. All we care about is drugs and sex. 
We're ready to be taken."

     But don't worry. The U.S. House of Representatives 
has just voted to ratify a constitutional amendment to 
ban flag-burning. This would repair an inexplicable 
oversight of the Constitution's Framers, who made no 
provision whatever for protecting the flag. How could 
such wise men have left us with such a gaping 

     Maybe they didn't. Maybe they would say that burning 
a flag during wartime constitutes treason, giving aid and 
comfort to the enemy. And since we are pretty much 
perpetually at war, this should take care of the problem. 
Flag-burners can be tried for treason and shot.

     One congressman said the proposed amendment would 
have pleased the people in the World Trade Center who 
perished on 9/11. If ever there was a cogent argument for 
amending the supreme law of the land, I guess that's it.

     Seriously, folks, the purpose of this amendment 
might as well be to prove to the world that this is still 
the country that passed Prohibition. The whole thing 
started in 1989 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that 
flag-burning is part of "the freedom of speech" protected 
by the First Amendment.

     That was ridiculous, but so is the fury flag-burning 
provokes. It's a bit like the Muslim outrage over 
"desecrations" of the Koran; thanks to the printing 
press, sacred texts are now mass-produced, hundreds of 
millions of them exist, and there is no way to protect 
them all from abuse.

     And a flag, also a mass-produced object, being in no 
sense sacred, can't be "desecrated." In England, for 
example, you can burn the Union Jack with impunity, and 
nobody cares.

     If every one of your neighbors burned an American 
flag in his front yard tomorrow, what harm would it do? 
They'd merely be destroying a bit of their own property. 
You might deplore their attitude, but that's a different 
matter. I was irritated when an artist insulted a 
crucifix a few years ago, but I never thought the law 
should punish him for that; I just thought the government 
shouldn't be subsidizing him.

     As a matter of fact, I myself was taught to burn the 
flag. If Congress were to subpoena me, I'd have to 
confess under oath that I once belonged to a subversive 
organization called the Boy Scouts of America, which 
instructed its members that if a flag should be soiled, 
torn, or even allowed to touch the ground, it must be 

     A curious taboo, I thought, but I wasn't one to 
question authority. My scoutmaster thought he was being 
patriotic. Today patriotism has come full circle and 
regards burning a flag as sacrilege.

     It seems a rather tedious effort to amend the 
Constitution every time the Supreme Court makes an absurd 
ruling, which happens on average every week. Just this 
week it has more or less abolished property rights, a 
decision that may have more far-reaching effects than its 
merely silly 1989 decision about burning flags.

     If you'll read the Constitution in question, you'll 
notice that it provides for impeachment. This was meant 
to be used -- not rarely, but always. Every government 
official should be constantly aware that he can lose his 
job if he abuses his power, just as most people know they 
can be fired at any time for abusing their employers' 

     But impeachment has become a dead letter, like so 
much of the Constitution, and it happens so seldom that 
members of the Federal judiciary feel their jobs are 
safe, no matter what they do. Until Americans start 
insisting that overweening justices be canned for 
usurping power, we can expect them to go on treating the 
Constitution with contempt. Unlike flag-burners, they are 
a clear and present danger.


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