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Stars and Stripes No More?
by Jean Hay · June 1, 1997

I'm going to miss the Stars and Stripes.

I'm going to miss all those red, white and blue ties, shirts, hats, beach towels and bikinis that now liven up parades, political rallies, backyards and beaches.

Because, if we pass this flag-burning amendment to the Constitution, that stuff will disappear. After all, how many people do you know who will risk jail over an exuberant display of our nation's symbol?

There is a way around this a Bureau of Apparel and Fashion to dictate the placement of stars and stripes on clothing. Official government dress codes would tell us whether flags or portions thereof are legal, say, if sewn onto a sleeve or displayed above the nipples, but illegal if attached to anything below the waist, or what we should do with toddlers caught with stars and stripes on their diaper pants.

Not clear yet is what to do with illegal clothing we already own. Will mere possession be a crime, like drug paraphernalia, or would we have to actually wear the clothes to be picked up for desecration? Does this dispicable act have to be done in public for us to be found guilty? What if we wear a tattered, paint-splattered, but favorite red, white and blue sweatshirt to clean out the garage?

Don't laugh. We've actually been down this road before. YIP founder Abbie Hoffman was arrested and went to trial in the 1960s for wearing a spiffy red, white and blue shirt much like one I saw on a golf pro the other day on CNN Sports. Hoffman beat the rap only because the prosecution could not prove that the shirt had started its life as a flag. Honest, this was a real case, with real prosecutors, taking up real court time, with the threat of a real prison sentence. You would think our courts and prisons weren't overcrowded enough.

What's confusing to me is why this is even an issue. Police already have the authority to arrest people for burning or doing other nasty things to American flags the lowlifes don't themselves own.

The only difference I see is that this amendment would extend criminality to what someone does to his own flag, or close rendition thereof. That being the case, why are the property rights people not up in arms over this? After all, they demanded, and got, the legal right to burn any wooden cross they happen to own, provided they do it on their own property or on public property (with the appropriate burning permits, of course which are hard to get these days, with pollution limits and all). Why wouldn't the same principles apply here?

(The only part of cross-burning that is still illegal is taking your privately-owned wooden cross and burning it on someone else's property without their permission. It's illegal to scare the bejeebers out of someone, in what could be construed as a threat on their lives or safety over the minor issue of whether or not you think they have the right to exist, let alone in your neighborhood.)

Speaking of crosses, I am surprised that the religious right is not outraged at this either. After all, a flag-desecration amendment to our Constitution, making it an official federal offense to show irreverence to our nation's symbol, is a clear violation of the First Commandment.

You recall the First Commandment. That's the one that talks about false gods, and worshipping graven images. Remember the Golden Calf that got Moses so mad he broke all 10 Commandments at the same time? Same deal here. I've been expecting the religious right to raise this point for years. They've let me down yet again.

Another problem. Since the current Flag Code designates burning as the proper way to dispose of flags that are torn, tattered, faded, or worn out, would this amendment force us to throw the whole Boy Scout troop in jail for respectfully burning a pile of faded cemetery flags?

Of course not, you say. Boy Scouts think beautiful thoughts while the light from the flames dance on their eager young faces. In contrast, the faces and minds of the protesters are filled with hate and anger over what they perceive their government has done to violate the freedom, democracy, and justice that the flag represents. It is for those thoughts and that anger that they must be punished, you say.

Okay then, the political perspectives of the flaming idiots are the real issue here. So, after Congress establishes the Board of Apparel and Fashion (BAF), it should immediately turn around and name an Official Board of Thought Police. The OBTP would be charged with re- writing the Flag Code, explaining just what we can and cannot legally think about the American flag and the government it represents, while we are in the process of either flaunting or burning it.

Except, gee, Thought Police. Sounds more than a little un-American to me....

Look! Over there! What is that, rising from the ashes of that burned flag?

By God, it's the ghost of Sen. Joe McCarthy!


Jean Hay is a freelance political
commentator who lives in Bangor, Maine.



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