Monday, February 2, 2009

Burning the Flag

In my English 302 class we have been discussing the issue of whether burning the American flag sholuld be made illegal or if it is protected under the first amendment: freedom of speech. It has been interesting to hear and read my students' opinions on this topic. When we discussed the topic as a class, many students were initially hesitant to take a stand on one side or the other. Eventually, everyone had to choose a side (literally, as they had to move to one side of the classroom or the other). We then had a debate but the two sides had to argue for the opposing viewpoint. It was a really entertaining class. Then I read their response papers on the topic and I read a lot of other interesting views on the subject. More students felt it should be illegal than that it should be considered free speech.

So, I am going to relfect on my opinion on this topic, if you don't mind. Some people believe that teachers should not voice their opinions on issues, but I respect my students enough to share my thought with them. Plus, as English 300 is not the class that was debating this topic, then the issues is really moot. Anyway, I do think that burning the flag should be protected by the frst amendment. It is a non-violent (to people) way to protest and make a statement, and while it can't be considered literal speech, I think it should (and is, according to the Supreme Court) be considered symbolic speech, as it makes a statement and communicates a message.

One students argued that any American who burns the flag must hate America because the flag represents America. I completely disagree with that. Burning the flag is generally done to protest a particular decision or behavior of the American government (when it is done by Americans - I am not discussing when people from other countries burn our flag). You can disagree with the government and criticize the bahavior of our country while still loving our country. Many people think Michael Moore hates America because he creates documentaries that criticize it. Yet, he has said time and time again that he loves America but thinks it can be better and deserves to be better.

Another argument from several students is that people in the military, throughout history, have fought and died for the flag. I disagree with that too. They have fought and died to keep American free and protect our rights and freedoms. Therefore, by taking away rights, isn't that disrespecting the people who have fought for our country? My grandfather fought in World War II, but when Vietnam happened, he encouraged my dad and my uncle to protest because he disagreed with the war and America's role in it. Flag burning was a common form of protest during the Vietnam era.

So, I open up this debate to anyone reading this: what do you think?