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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Why the flag-burning amendment is a stupid idea

Rob Booth points out that a veterans' group has come out against the proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit desecration of the American Flag:
Veterans Defending the Bill of Rights, a network of thousands of U.S. military veterans committed to preserving freedom, today expressed its disappointment with the House passage of a constitutional amendment to ban the “physical desecration” of the flag. If passed by the Senate and ratified by the states, the proposal would be the first restriction to the Bill of Rights to be included in the Constitution.
Rob's comments are short and sweet:
This is an ACLU front group. I signed up. They're right.
They are right, and here's why. I abhor flag-burning. I salute that flag, I pledge my allegiance to that flag, and when I'm standing on a chunk of land with that flag over it, I'm pretty sure I'll be okay. When I see an American flag burning in some demonstration on TV, it really pisses me off. I've never seen one burning in person, but if I ever do, I'm reasonably certain I would beat the hell out of the guy with the lighter. The constitution might protect that hippie from the government -- and rightly so -- but the First Amendment says "Congress shall make no law," not "Matt shall kick no ass." Which is exactly the point of the Bill of Rights. It is not a handbook for how government should rule its subjects, and it's not a guide on how to be a nice, quiet lamb. On the contrary, it's all about restraining government and encouraging rabble-rousers. It's important to remember who the founding fathers were. They were not a bunch of lily-livered civil libertarians in the modern sense. They weren't upset because porn wasn't readily available in libraries or because kids prayed in schools. They were upset because they were being ruled from thousands of miles away by an inbred tyrant who taxed them without any input, who refused to allow free movement of the people, and who even made his subjects house and feed his troops. So they got pissed, grabbed their muskets, and set out to kill the government. These guys didn't screw around. And once they got done killing the government, they sat down to start over and get it right this time. So they wrote the constitution, which is revolutionary in many ways. It is revolutionary in that it changed the paradigm of the government-citizen relationship: no longer is the government the master and the citizen the servant. It is revolutionary in that it was created after a revolutionary war by government-killing revolutionary warriors. And it's revolutionary in that it even provides for its own overthrow by revolution. The whole point of the Second Amendment is to prevent tyranny by ensuring the existence of an armed citizenry, ready to kill the government if circumstances warrant. The Bill of Rights severely limits the powers of government so that the people -- collectively and individually -- are protected from those powers. It doesn't say what we can do. It says what the government can't do:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...
...the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue...
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime...nor shall any person be subject...nor shall be compelled...nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property...nor shall private property be taken fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined...
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
That's a lot of nos, nots and neithers. You can almost imagine King George III discussing civil liberties with George Mason: George the Third, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of His other Realms and Territories King, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith: "Can I hold prisoners indefinitely?" George Mason: "No." G3: "Okay, what about summary executions?" Mason: "What, are you kidding? No!" G3: "Well, can I..." Mason: "NO!" [BANG!] Even in the few situations where the constitution discusses what you and I can't do, it puts very tough restrictions on the government's ability to nail us for it. We're not supposed to commit treason, but even if we do, we can't get convicted unless the feds have an overwhelming, ironclad, bulletproof case. Why? Because the founders were a bunch of treasonous government-killers, and they knew that every now and then, that's just the kind of guy you need. They also believed in certain restrictions on free speech, as I do. Those restrictions should rightly be imposed by reasonable social mores, not by government. Why doesn't everyone abuse free speech all the time? Why don't we walk around naked, scream "Fire!" in crowded movie theaters, or stand on a street corner and yell cuss words at the top of our lungs? It's not because we're fearful of prosecution. It's because we understand that civilized people just don't do that sort of thing. Natural respect for each other and for society limits these extreme events, without the heavy hand of government.


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