Point/Counterpoint pt1

Tony Cox Columnist

Flag burning abuses freedom

One of the main differences between liberals and conservatives lies in the matter of restraint. This virtue manifests itself in several ways: fiscal responsibility, moral propriety, striking a healthy balance between work and play. Conservatives are human beings, and as such they are bound to let their passions get the best of them from time to time. But on the whole, they know the difference between right and wrong, and they do their best to let their actions reflect this distinction.

The conservative philosophy advocates freedom, but it recognizes with this freedom comes responsibility. One of the most irresponsible abuses of freedom is flag burning.

Burning the American flag is an age-old gesture of dissent in which a person destroys the symbol of the country that protects their right to do so. It is a particularly ironic way of biting the hand that feeds you. While many elected officials on both sides of the aisle have suggested a constitutional amendment that would ban flag burning, the courts have said that flag burning is protected under the right to free speech. I reluctantly agree with this conclusion, as the right to dissent is a valuable one that should not be hijacked by political demagogues from either party.

However, an important lesson the American left has failed to learn since the late 1960s is that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

Proponents of flag burning use the same rationale to justify their actions as did those who protested the role of the United States in the War on Terrorism. A common criticism against these protesters was that by demonstrating their disagreement with the government, they were emboldening the terrorists by suggesting national division. When commentators outside of the leftist community suggested that these protesters were doing more harm than good, the left had a conniption, ranting that the government was trying to suspend their constitutional right to dissent. Some argued that not exercising our right to dissent is the same as surrendering this right in the first place. “If we don’t burn the flag, we might as well not have the right to do so,” they seem to suggest.

I disagree with this assessment. Think of it this way: I have the right to stab myself in the eyeball with a plastic fork, but to do so would probably be somewhat detrimental to my eyesight. The same principle applies to flag burning — sure, you CAN do it, but should you?

It is understandable that flag burners would want to safeguard their right to dissent, but it is completely irrational to desecrate the most recognizable symbol of that right. Equally irrational is the short-sightedness of these flag burners, who claim to love America but do not hesitate to destroy our most tangible reminder of her greatness.

I would love for someone to explain to me why a person who truly loves America would treat the flag so disrespectfully. After all, it’s not Bush’s flag or the government’s flag. It belongs to all of us, and the flag burners should understand this.

Tony Cox is a junior philosophy major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].