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?


  1. I think burning the flag is disrespectful because it is supposed to represent America. When it is at full-mast, it shows pride. When it is at half-mast, it shows mourning. At the same time, I think burning it is an effective way to get people's attention because it is illegal. I don't think its impact would be as strong if it was legalized. When someone burns a flag to protest, it's showing the world that something is seriously wrong and they're ready to face the consequences of notifying people so radically.

  2. I,also think that burning the flag is extremely disrespectful. It is a strong symbol of America and what America stands for, including freedom. By burning it, you are showing disrespect for those things. I think that there are much more positive and effective ways of voicing your opinions and feelings, and much more effective ways of bringing about change.
    That said, I do not think that it should be illegal. I think that it should be part of our free speech, as the act itself is not harmful. I just think that people should really give careful consideration to their decisions and actions and make sure it's the best way to accomplish their intended purpose.

  3. In response to Donna, I also think it should be part of our free speech. That doesn't mean I want to do it, but I just don't want to see the freedom taken from others.

  4. I do agree that there are far more effective ways to make a point, but I don't fully understand what "America stands for". America was built on the near extiction of an entire people. Also, Mexicans (my people) were driven out of our land. Now Americans are getting mad about immigration. What goes around comes around. Americans ARE immigrants. Why is there no fence being built in Canada? Because they look the same? Because they generally have more money than Mexicans? America says "we will take your poor"! That wasn't anything more than exploitation. The original Americans were a rag tag group of angry europeans that had just finished a war with their former brothers. They could not have populated an entire nation without eventually inbreeding. Needless to say, they didn't have the man power to build and farm on a mass scale. To solve this problem, they exploited asians and africans, making them do the dirty work.
    If this is what the flag symbolizes. Please let er' burn.
    On a side not I do not hate America or Americans. I know it is too late to undo what has been done. But, I do not feel it is right to tell our children how wonderful this country is and force them to pledge their allegiance without knowing the terrible truth.
    Thank you for your time.