Want to have a little fun … and make a point? Put together one of those word association lists in which you say a word or term and the other person is to respond quickly. Put the term “independence day” in the list and try it out on people – especially young people. The most common response is likely to be “movie.”
Actually, Independence Day is our nation’s most important civic holiday – although we commonly refer to it as the Fourth of July these days. That was not always the case. For generations, it was referred to by its proper name, Independence Day – and should be again.
Since 1777 — the first anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 – fireworks have been the traditional expression of celebration across the land. It was a time for Americans throughout the country to raise up their voices with the National Anthem, God Bless America and any number of other patriotic songs.
It was a time to rally around the flag – but obviously not for everyone. One of the iconic expressions of disagreement, disappointment and downright anger at our leaders or the policies we do not like is to burn the flag.
This has become very controversial with periodic efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to make it a federal crime to burn the flag in protest – as opposed to burning it as the proper disposal of an old worn or tattered flag.
This Independence Day, Gregory “Joey” Johnson (pictured above) will be at it again. He has promised to come to Washington for the purpose of burning the flag during the high point of our annual national celebration of independence. If you are not familiar with Johnson, he is a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party and the guy who won a court case in 1989, winning him, and others, the right to burn flags for a living. Since that time, Johnson has had a theatrical obsession with burning what he calls “that rag of empire and oppression” as his claim to fame. God knows how many flags Johnson has burned in the past 30 years, but he will be adding another in the coming week.
Flag burning is an issue that divides patriots. I do not respect burning the flag and especially do not respect those who see it as a legitimate means of protest – including that reprobate Johnson-the-flag-burner. I happen to be one of those patriots who think we can protest without disrespecting the symbols of our overarching unity – the flag and the National Anthem. To me, disrespecting them is to disrespect the very foundations of our American culture of freedom.
However, burning the flag is a form of speech. It is a statement. As much as I find the practice offensive, I must – out of respect for the First Amendment oppose making the burning of the American Flag illegal – as long as the flag that is burned is the property of the burner and has not been stolen — and it does not pose a significant safety risk at the time. In mixing, metaphorically, the iconic symbols of America, I would not allow the burning of a flag in a fireworks factory.
We do not need to lose sight of the irony of burning the symbol of free speech in ritualistically exercising that very right as a form of public protests. Nor do we have to harbor anything but contempt for those who would do so. But that is freedom, baby. And we damn well should project it at every turn.
So there ‘tis.