Thursday, June 23, 2005

US Flag More Sacred Than The Home

Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted 286-130 to pass yet another flag-burning ban amendment to the US Constitution. Adoption of this amendment by the Senate would make this the first amendment to revise the Bill of Rights, namely the First Amendment. This is the text of the proposed House amendment (H. J. RES. 10) in its entirety:
The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.
What powers does the US Congress plan on unleashing on the American populace if a person is found desecrating a flag? Is this really enforceable or is the government trusting on neighbors turning in neighbors over this? "Uh, Bob, I have to report you for that barbecue last week when that flag caught on fire." Who decides what "physical desecration" means? Does wearing the flag as clothing or other garments count? The whole McCarthy House Committee on Un-American Activities comes painfully to mind.


Back in 1995, Senator Hatch made this argument in favor of the amendment:
Isn't it ridiculous that the American people are denied the right to protect their unique national symbol in the law? To fail to protect the flag demeans it.
Though a laudable concept, the truth that seems to escape many people on this issue is the fact the US flag is only that: a symbol of America. This symbol certainly shouldn't trump the rights of individual Americans or their exercise of freedoms that are represented by that symbol. Though I can certainly understand the distaste many have for flag burning, to amend the Bill of Rights to protect a symbol and abridge real rights of US citizens cannot be the answer.

There is also a religious and political aspect to this as well. By warranting such undue protection, the US Flag is elevated beyond other sacred symbols that have no such protection in the Constitution:
The proposed amendment would create an exception for the flag. It would become the only object in America that could not be subjected to symbolic protest. Not even the Cross, Crescent and Star of David merit such protection.

The great danger of turning the symbol of a nation-state into a sacred object is that it implicitly deifies the nation-state itself. The Pledge of Allegiance is taken to the flag "and to the Republic for which it stands." If the mere symbol of the state is made sacred, surely the state itself must be sacred. The right to protest the actions of government is placed on shaky ground.
Then, in an almost orchestrated move, the Supreme Court decided to disperse the notion of private property:
A divided Supreme Court ruled Thursday that local governments may seize people's homes and businesses against their will for private development in a decision anxiously awaited in communities where economic growth often is at war with individual property rights.

The 5-4 ruling - assailed by dissenting Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as handing "disproportionate influence and power" to the well-heeled in America - was a defeat for Connecticut residents whose homes are slated for destruction to make room for an office complex. They had argued that cities have no right to take their land except for projects with a clear public use, such as roads or schools, or to revitalize blighted areas.

As a result, cities now have wide power to bulldoze residences for projects such as shopping malls and hotel complexes in order to generate tax revenue.
The surprise is in the neo-liberal agenda surrounding the decision. The justification was based on the fact that local governments, not courts, are better equipped in ascertaining whether development project will benefit the community or not. Oblivious of the libertarian principles of private ownership, the Supreme Court ceded all individual rights to the government. There is a clear assumption here that the individual rights of the few are overwhelmed by the economic gains of the government and corporations that fund it.

Bulldoze house

So, in a nutshell, the US Flag is sacred. No one can touch it. But as for your house? We can bulldoze that and sell the property to the highest bidder. How American! Our symbols are more sacred than the freedoms they represent.


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