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The red, white, and blue American flag is striking. But more important than its aesthetic appeal is what it symbolizes.

The “Stars and Stripes,” “Old Glory,” the flag of these United States of America, is a powerful expression of the country’s ideals.

I am one who appreciates what this flag, in various forms since the Second Continental Congress’s Flag Resolution adopted June 14, 1777, represents, even beyond the colors. It embodies principles of liberty, history, pitfalls and progress, and most of all, sacrifice. Admiring the flag, caring for it, believing in what it symbolizes is a form of patriotism.

This said, I do not believe the American flag is sacred, that it is or should be raised to the level of religious icon. Nor do I think that the “Star Spangled Banner,” adopted by the Navy in 1899 and considered a de facto National Anthem by the military branches during the 19th Century, then officially adopted by Congress March 3, 1931 for the United States, is some sort of holy expression.

The fact that I don’t consider the flag sacred makes it possible for me to understand why the United States Supreme Court in Texas v. Johnson491 U.S. 397 (1989), and reaffirmed in U.S. v. Eichman496 U.S. 310 (1990), ruled that due to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, it is unconstitutional for a government (whether federal, state, or municipal) to prohibit the desecration of a flag, due to its status as "symbolic speech." Despite a number of attempts to ban the practice, desecration of the flag remains protected as free speech

I don’t like desecration of the flag, indeed despise pictures of people burning the flag. I have never damaged the flag and would not recommend this to anyone for any reason. But if someone chooses to profane the flag to express some point of view, I consider this what it is, their freedom of speech. 

Freedom of speech is what matters most, not the flag that symbolizes that freedom. This is the paradox. Someone desecrating the flag is participating in a civil liberty the flag represents. 

Something similar is occurring with “taking a knee,” the shorthand for not standing in respect during playing of the National Anthem. This has been an issue in American professional sports since 2016. 

Back in 2016-2017, I did not take a position arguing football player Colin Kaepernick crossed a line when he took a knee during the playing of the National Anthem. I said I thought the way he and others chose to protest was ill-advised and I still think this, but I did not think then and don’t think now that an athlete’s freedom of speech should be denied because the way they choose to express it offends people.

This goes both ways. I don’t like Kaepernick and now entire professional sports teams taking a knee during the National Anthem, but I think it’s their liberty to do so. I also think it is fans’ liberty to choose not to watch this protest or not to agree with this act of protesting and/or the reason for the protest or to choose not to continue watching or supporting this professional sport. Fans, at least some of them, are likely to “vote with their feet” and walk away. So, while there are guaranteed freedoms of speech there may also be consequences.

By the same token though, I don’t think football quarterback Drew Brees should have been excoriated by players and celebrities alike for simply expressing his respect for the flag, something most of the country believed just a short time ago. He’s apologized multiple times since, as has his wife, and after a while it sounds like groveling. He was verbally attacked and his character impugned for daring to express his point of view, one that at first didn’t fit the prevailing acceptable narrative so was deemed “insensitive.”

The essence of the First Amendment’s freedom of speech guarantee is that all speech that is not coupled with acts of violence may be expressed – whether or not we like the speech or find if offensive or obnoxious or even vile.

So again, I appreciate and respect the American flag and what it represents.

I do not like it when the flag is intentionally disrespected, much less desecrated.

I don’t like it when athletes and teams “take a knee” during the National Anthem, but I believe it is their right as American citizens to express themselves.

For me, the ultimate is what that flag means.

  • It means freedom of religion, speech, assembly, people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances, to keep and bear arms.
  • It means constitutional civil liberties and later civil rights. It means “land of the free and home of the brave.” 
  • It means ““Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
  • It means in terms of freedom the United States of America is “the last best hope of earth.”


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2020    

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