It truly breaks my heart that some people who speak the language of freedom do not understand it.
Freedom is not reserved for those who think like you, look like you, worship like you, “honor” the trappings of patriotism like you. Freedom belongs to everyone.
It belongs to the athlete who stands for the national anthem and places his hand over his heart, and it belongs to the athlete who takes a knee while the national anthem is played to draw attention to what he perceives as a social injustice. If freedom belongs to the first athlete and not the second, then it is not freedom.
It belongs to the student who rises and faces the flag to recite the pledge every morning, and it belongs to the student sitting next to him who decides not to stand because doing so would violate his religion. And it belongs to the agnostic or atheist student who chooses not to stand because someone in the 1950s who was afraid of communism decided to shove the words “under God” into the pledge. If freedom only belongs to the first student, then it is not freedom.
It belongs to the happy voter who celebrates his candidate’s victory by waving an American flag, and it belongs to the discontented voter who protests his candidate’s loss by burning the American flag. If freedom only belongs to the first voter, then it is not freedom.
No veteran fights for the flag. No soldier dies for the flag. The flag is a symbol of the freedom for which they fought and died. And that freedom applies to all, even to those who would exercise it in ways others find unpalatable. Especially to those who would exercise it in ways others find unpalatable. If it doesn’t apply to them, then it is not freedom.
The notion that “desecrating” the flag is disrespectful to veterans should offend every veteran who truly understands the freedom for which he served.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
The pledge of allegiance is not a prayer.
The Star Spangled Banner is not a hymn.
Patriotism is not worship.
The flag is not an idol.
And protest is not blasphemy.
Anyone who disagrees, by definition, commits idolatry and opposes freedom. There’s no middle ground here. You either recognize freedom or you don’t. You may not like how others express their freedom. No one’s asking you to. But if you value freedom, you respect their right to do so. If you do not respect someone’s right to sit for the pledge, kneel for the anthem, or burn a flag in legal, safe protest, then you do not value freedom. You just don’t. You may abhor their behavior, but if you do not respect their legal right to behave that way, then you do not value freedom.
Flag worship is unAmerican. There is no difference between jailing someone in Saudi Arabia for dishonoring the Qu’ran and jailing someone in the United States for dishonoring the flag. None. In each case a person is being penalized by the state for not respecting that which someone else holds sacred. Under the U.S. Constitution, we do not have the right to force others to recognize that which we hold sacred, whether it’s a Bible, a cross, a rosary, a Qu’ran or an American flag.
I can paint a picture of Mohammed reading the gospel of John in front of Old Glory and set the whole painting on fire, and I will not have committed a crime. I may offend a few people. Too bad, so sad. Offending you is not against the law. You don’t jail people for it. You don’t try to revoke their citizenship. That’s fascism. That’s state-worship. That’s idolatry.
And that is a disgrace to the service and sacrifice of our veterans.
At-large director on the national board of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Former president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and of UNITY: Journalists of Color.
An extreme moderate, not committed to political ideology.
Stepfather to two wonderful daughters. Father to two wonderful sons. Husband.
Rogue karaoke singer.
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