The “#TakeAKnee” NFL bullsh*t is not a free speech issue.
The first amendment protects citizens from government interference in their speech, not from consequences in the free market (as our own Tiana Dalichov explains). Before you have a panic attack at the title of this article, please take note that I completely oppose this NFL nonsense. For myriad reasons that have been written elsewhere, I find this disrespect of the anthem, the flag, the police, and America as a whole completely vile.
But this article isn’t really about the NFL. It is the response of so-called right wingers and conservatives that really piqued my interest about the broader ramifications of our collective views on free speech.
As many of you know, I live in Canada, and eventually I wish to become a United States citizen. I love America. Deeply so.
I have sang the national anthem on Twitter. I own a copy of the Constitution. I have American flag t shirts. I defend America as the greatest nation on earth constantly. It should be clear to anyone who has seen anything I’ve ever written or spoke about that I would be the first person to find burning a flag absolutely repulsive.
But I would also be the first person (and the last, if necessary) to stand up for the right of another person to desecrate an American flag without interference from the government.
Ever since the #TakeAKnee issue, I have come to realize that my position, one that I (naively, perhaps) assumed to be almost universally agreed upon by conservatives, is actually controversial.
This is the conversation I referred to earlier. Long time follower on Twitter, triggered and unfollowing me because I protect 1A. pic.twitter.com/Z7kSKAHXIU
— Stefanie MacWilliams (@StefMacWilliams) September 25, 2017
Initially, it was just one guy who unfollowed me.
Okay, maybe a fluke. No big deal.
Then, I did a poll (Full disclosure: I deleted the first, because it was worded a bit poorly, but the second poll is getting similar results):
Should Americans have the right under the law to desecrate the American flag (if it's their own property)?
— Stefanie MacWilliams (@StefMacWilliams) September 26, 2017
The results are scary enough, at least currently – but the replies to the poll are even worse.
“Those who answered yes are free to leave the country!”
“The flag is never your personal property. 24/7 it belongs to America.”
“It shld be made illegal like in other countries. It is a disgrace”
I can’t believe what I’m reading. I’m appalled.
I would be remiss not to mention our current President (who I supported and currently support), who tweeted similar idiocy back in 2016.
Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2016
You are all incredibly wrong about this issue.
The Supreme Court, by way of the Constitution of The United States Of America, has affirmed that you do in fact have the right to desecrate American flags (of course, you cannot be breaking other laws in the process) under the First Amendment.
Though there have been multiple laws intended to ban this practice, the Supreme Court upheld the First Amendment right to flag desecration in 1989 (and again in 1990 with the case of United States v. Eichman) in the case of Texas v. Johnson.
This is a fascinating case overall, but Justice Anthony Kennedy’s comments are especially powerful:
For we are presented with a clear and simple statute to be judged against a pure command of the Constitution. The outcome can be laid at no door but ours. The hard fact is that sometimes we must make decisions we do not like. We make them because they are right, right in the sense that the law and the Constitution, as we see them, compel the result. And so great is our commitment to the process that, except in the rare case, we do not pause to express distaste for the result, perhaps for fear of undermining a valued principle that dictates the decision. This is one of those rare cases.
Though symbols often are what we ourselves make of them, the flag is constant in expressing beliefs Americans share, beliefs in law and peace and that freedom which sustains the human spirit. The case here today forces recognition of the costs to which those beliefs commit us. It is poignant but fundamental that the flag protects those who hold it in contempt.”
This passage, especially the bit at the end, sends a chill down my spine.
One of my Twitter followers put it similar to this: “Throwing a person in jail for burning a flag does more to desecrate the flag than the act burning it could ever hope to do.”
As I believe Justice Kennedy concurs in his above statement, I do not buy into the idea that the American Flag is just fabric, with no inherent symbolic value that stands separate from the varying opinions of dissidents.
However, the very idea of the flag as “…constant in expressing beliefs Americans share, beliefs in law and peace and that freedom which sustains the human spirit.” is precluded by those very beliefs.
If you don’t believe in the Constitution, and the First Amendment, why does the flag even matter?
As I said above, I live in Canada.
A country which lacks an equivalent to the First Amendment, where freedom of speech is not fundamental, where there exists “hate speech” laws, and so forth. The United States is the bastion of free speech in the world today. I dream of the day I can move to a country where I don’t have to worry about governmental interference based upon the words I say.
The Founders of the United States, the architects of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, knew that a limited government was the best way to secure individual liberty.
It is no accident that liberty and freedom of expression and speech go hand in hand.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be like Saudi Arabia, where desecrating a flag is a criminal offense.
It is easy to say now that the United States in no way compares to an Islamic hellhole, that our flag is a thing of beauty and freedom. I completely agree.
But for the same reason the Founders crafted the Second Amendment to protect Americans from the possibility of a future tyrannical government, we must uphold the First Amendment. Taking away speech based on the content of said speech is an extremely dangerous thing to do, a slippery slope of the most dangerous order, which is why there is a long tradition in America of erring on the side of the First Amendment in the “tough cases”.
America is great because America preserves individual liberty. And every liberty we have can be defended because we are able to speak freely.
This trend of faux-conservatism has to end.