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June 14, 2003

Bush vs. God: Via Jeff Jarvis, a well-argued piece that pointing that the flag-burning amendment—passed in the House of Representatives with White House support, 300-125—violates not just the First Amendment but, um, the Ten Commandments:
By elevating the flag to an object of transcendent veneration—an untouchable idol—the proposed amendment strikes at the core of Jewish, Muslim and Christian belief systems.

The Ten Commandments apply to Jews and Christians alike. Heading the list is the commandment to have no other god, meaning no other absolute allegiance. The Second Commandment extends that prohibition to veneration of material objects—it forbids “bowing down to” or worshipping graven images of any kind. The point of all this is that no temporal power is worthy of the veneration that must be reserved for God alone.

A virtually identical prohibition applies to Muslims. The First Pillar of their faith, repeated daily in prayers, is “There is no God but God and Muhammed is the messenger of God.” The greatest sin for a Muslim, comparable to idolatry for a Jew or Christian, is “shirk,” which means associating something with God. That includes associating a state or nation with God, or assigning transcendent importance to a symbol of that state or nation.

There are two ways in which the proposed amendment violates the prohibitions on shirk/idolatry. One is the use of the word desecrate, which, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, means “to violate the sacredness of.” The amendment would in effect declare the American flag sacred. Efforts to use a less loaded term were explicitly rejected by the amendment’s sponsors.

But more than semantics is at play. As it presently stands, the First Amendment forbids Congress from passing any law “abridging the freedom of speech” or “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion. The proposed amendment would create an exception for the flag. It would become the only object in America that could not be subjected to symbolic protest. Not even the Cross, Crescent and Star of David merit such protection. […]

Should the amendment be passed by the Senate and then ratified, it would for the first time incorporate religious language into the Constitution. The great irony is that it would do so to venerate a secular object—the symbol of an often exemplary but still fallible nation-state—violating the most fundamental tenets of the three primary religious faiths of the American people.

I’m particularly struck by the news that “efforts to use a less loaded term [than “desecrate”] were explicitly rejected by the amendment’s sponsors.” Well, in a world where “conservatism” stands for record deficits and Federal pre-emption of the states, I guess we have to expect “Christian” politicians to be opposed to that tired old First Commandment. Excuse me while I go outside to stare at the three moons as they race across the green sky. [07:59 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Bush vs. God::

Copeland Morris ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2003, 08:53 PM:

I can only commend this excellent commentary; it's one of the best I've seen on this weblog. Setting the State above God; indeed, placing the the flag in an apposite relationship with the Divine, is one of the tenets of fascism.

Eliani Torres ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2003, 10:27 PM:

I was raised Jehovah's Witness, a long time ago, and this is exactly why JW children to this day do not to say the Pledge of Allegiance (amended version, not Bellamy's original), along with other oaths of allegiance around the world.

This doctrine is what landed JWs in Hitler's concentration camps. Enforced nationalism, anyone?

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2003, 12:07 AM:

Would the JWs say Bellamy's original Pledge? I thought they refused oaths of allegience in general.

Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2003, 12:11 AM:

Wasn't the Supreme Court decision about JWs and the Pledge from the 1940s? The "under God" didn't get put in till the '50s, IIRC.

Eliani Torres ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2003, 12:14 AM:

Sorry, I mean "amended version, NOR Bellamy's original."

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2003, 03:04 AM:

I once did substitute teaching at a school with a large number of JW students. I became somewhat of an expert at secularizing lesson plans.

For Halloween, most of the kids were cutting out paper skeletons and articulating them with brads as decorations. Couple kids said "We don't believe in Halloween," thinking that would get them out of the assignment, but I told them they could believe in anatomy instead and set them to work with the encyclopedia, labeling the various bones in latin. Instant natural science.

But I happily excused any student from exercises in fake patriotism, especially the damnable Pledge of Allegiance. I have no trouble with oaths in general, when sworn by adults as part of solemn ceremonies entered into by choice, but part of US law states that children are not allowed to enter into contracts, and any agreement entered into under duress is invalid--and I remember duress, especially from my McCarthy-era third grade teacher, Mrs. Praisewater.

But being required to not only pledge to the thing, but treat it as sacred? This would quickly be followed by the establishment of a state religion, because what's sacred for one religion is profane for another. Is sex sacred? What about war?

You know, I'd dearly love to see some Quakers sue the US government for taking the flag into battle. After all, if war is profane, then that's a desecration.

Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2003, 07:57 AM:

Nitpick alert: The Jewish star isn't a religious symbol in the same sense that a cross is--it's an ethnic marker. I bet it already is protected--publically burning a Jewish star may well count as a hate crime.

The parallel case for Judaism would be desecrating the four-letter name of God. (Or possibly G-d.)

Copeland Morris ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2003, 01:30 PM:

a correction to my submission: there was an unintended meaning in use of the word apposite, in the adjectival form, the meaning shifts to signify
"apt" or "fitting", which is surely what I did NOT mean to say. It was an oversight. What I intended to say was "...placing the flag on an equivalent footing with the Divine is one of the tenets of fascism."

MdJhwk ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2003, 11:58 PM:

chckd th mnng f scrd nd dscrt n th trst www.m-w.cm wbst nd cm t th cnclsn y r fll f hrs pp. Dscrt s fn wrd t s fr th mndmnt. Dspl mght b mrgnll bttr. Th wrd hs tw mnngs. Y chs n f thm t ft yr vw f thngs. Th sm wth scrd. Lk dscrt t hs rlgs mnngs s wll s sclr. gn y chs th mnng t ft yr prtclr thss nd gnrd ths mnngs tht dd nt. Dng ths gvs y swll pprtnt t tk cpl f chp pltcl shts. Ths s vr pr pst tht ss vr pr lgc nd s, t dgr, dshnst whthr n grs r dsgrs wth th xtrm pltcl vwpnt tht s bvsl bhnd t.

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 01:25 AM:

"fll f hrs pp"? What does "fll f hrs pp" mean? For that matter, who here thinks that Patrick's "pltcl vwpnt" is "xtrm"?

Paul ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 09:03 AM:

The word has two meanings. You chose one of them to fit your view of things.

Since by choosing the least offensive definition of two, you're guilty of this, too; why should anyone accept your definition over Patrick's? If we must have a constitutional amendment to curb the armies of savage flag-burners that roam this great land, why not write it in language that avoids such ambiguities? Is it because the authors can't or won't? The latter, I'll bet. As usual, this congenitally dishonest administration is relying on semantic quibbling to sell its otherwise intellectually impoverished ideas.

Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 11:48 AM:

MadJayhawk is "fll f hrs pp" (thanks, Alan, for doing the disemvoweling).

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition, 2000 -- as fine a dictionary as you're likely to find free anywhere on the Internet -- defines "desecrate" as "To violate the sacredness of; profane." There is no second meaning.

(MdJyhwk, next time tell us which dictionary you're using. There are more than one, especially in this crowd, so "the" dictionary doesn't cut it.)

"Sacred" has six meanings listed in the AHD4, four of which are strictly religious:

1. Dedicated to or set apart for the worship of a deity. 2. Worthy of religious veneration: the sacred teachings of the Buddha. 3. Made or declared holy: sacred bread and wine. ... 6. Of or relating to religious objects, rites, or practices.

The two that aren't specifically religious are:

4. Dedicated or devoted exclusively to a single use, purpose, or person: sacred to the memory of her sister; a private office sacred to the President. 5. Worthy of respect; venerable.

Number 4 I think can be called metaphorical, and I have no problem with describing any country's flag, much less the flag of my own country, as "worthy of respect" or "venerable".

But to pass an amendment to the constitution to prevent desecrating it is a stretch. It seems to indicate that the true religion of this country is vexillolatry -- flag worship. This should clearly fall in conflict with the First Commandment, not to mention the First Amendment, for anyone who pays more than lip service to either of those, but Congressmen looking for an easy way to win votes don't stop to worry about theology. Not with an election a mere 18 months away!

The Senate, with only one-third of its members due up for election next year, is liable to take a more studied view of the matter. According to this article from 2000 the House had proposed anti-flag-burning amendments three times since 1995 (this one in 2003 would make four) but the Senate defeated all three. And if it's any comfort, the 2000 try passed in the House by a slightly larger margin than this 2003 try did.

In 2000 the senior Senator from my state said:
93We love that flag, it symbolizes the nation. But we must love the Constitution more.94 I seem to be saying this a lot lately: God bless Robert C. Byrd!

Another person who spoke out against such an amendment in the past, says that 2000 article, was Colin Powell, saying "that it was mistake to amend the Constitution, 'that great shield of democracy, to hammer a few miscreants.'" Somehow I expect him not to be so outspoken this time around.

Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 12:29 PM:

So... this means that all those tacky T-shirts and shorts and running shoes and belt buckles and so forth decorated with versions of the US flag are now going to be illegal? And whipping the flag into filthy tatters by fixing it to an SUV antenna will count as desecration?

Mm. I suppose I shouldn't get my hopes up.

There is a case for not defiling other people's group symbols. I, for instance, would not dream of, say, trampling on an American flag, because - coming from me - that would be an insult to all Americans (not just the ones currently in charge that I disagree with). I wouldn't feed consecrated wafers from a Catholic church to dogs, either, or burn a cross on someone's lawn. Symbols do matter; destroying one is not a light action.

But I wholly reserve the right to burn, trample on, or otherwise damage a Canadian flag. That is my right as a Canadian citizen; if my government does something I disapprove of that much, it is my right to use a symbolic protest to make my point.

You're completely right, Patrick - this law goes beyond courtesy to become idolatry.

So, let's see, what is the correct thing to do with a golden calf? How does it go... ah yes, here it is: "And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it."

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 12:34 PM:

The Moderator hereby awards an extra measure of egoboo and glory to Alan Bostick and Lois Fundis, on account of their beforehandedness.

Simon ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 12:37 PM:

I have access to the OED online, which says "desecrate" means:

a) To take away its consecrated or sacred character from (anything); to treat as not sacred or hallowed; to profane.

b) To divert from a sacred to a profane purpose; to dedicate or devote to something evil.

c) To dismiss or degrade from holy orders. archaic

The second meaning from Merriam-Webster that MadJayhawk sites is the kind of meaning that something shows up in the OED labeled "by extension," It's not the kind of meaning - certainly the example Merriam-Webster gives is not the kind of usage - one would expect in a constitutional amendment.

Kevin Andrew Murphy wrote,

"For Halloween, most of the kids were cutting out paper skeletons and articulating them with brads as decorations. Couple kids said "We don't believe in Halloween," thinking that would get them out of the assignment, but I told them they could believe in anatomy instead and set them to work with the encyclopedia, labeling the various bones in latin. Instant natural science."

Were the paper skeletons at least approximately anatomically correct? I've seen lots of drawings of skeletons that were hardly anything of the sort. An anatomist of my acquaintance once tried to figure out what the musculature of such a creature could be. Much amusement resulted.

Simon ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 12:47 PM:

Sorry, I meant to write "cites" - I also meant to write "MdJhwk"

MadJayhawk ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 01:36 PM:

wll ssm tht m pst gt 'dsmvwld' bcs sd th wrd 'pp' n 'srs' wblg nd nt bcs dsgrd wth th pprnt rthdx f th grp. hp tht s th cs. Ht t s fcssm rrng ts gl hd n sch gd wblg.

On a personal basis I see no need for a constitutional amendment for, hmmmmm, what IS a good word to describe ripping, tearing, burning, stomping, etc., a flag that is our national symbol? Anyone, anyone?

Putting the domino theory to work in the flag amendment case: what would be next thing that we need to protect with a constitutional amendment from those unruly, protesting hoards? The White House lawn, the Washington monument, or a picture of a politician?

Protecting 'things' like the flag with new constitutional amendments demeans our constitution and could set some dangerous precedents for amendment writing types on both sides of the political spectrum to use in the future. Flag protection amendments are nothing but political grandstanding by what I think are well-meaning people with a little too much red, white, and blue finger paint on their hands.

I stand by my original argument that the author was opposing the amendment based on his feeling that the writers of amendment were somehow using words with religous (and secular) meanings to make the flag into a quasi-religious object thus blurring the lines between church and state. That dog does not hunt.

Comparsions between the 'hurt' caused by the display of the Confederate battle flag and the 'hurt' caused by the witnessing of the burning of the US flag could be made, but won't be. I do not want to be disemvoweled again.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 02:18 PM:

You got disemvowelled because saying that someone here is "fll f hrse pp" is rude. Our Moderator will tolerate dissenting opinions gladly, but not rudeness.

And as for the comparison you cite: you probably wouldn't risk disemvowelment for that. Hails of derision, yes, but not disemvowelment.

terry.karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 02:19 PM:

I (with far less grace or power) have opposed such an amendment in those grounds.

Given the high place the flag holds in the services the thought of it being raised to a sacred status offends me on more than one level, but I digress.

Quakers aren't going to sue on the basis of the flag being descrated if carried into battle because they won't accept the sanctification. I am not certain they would make much of an opposition to the ammendment, at least not an organised one, for much the same reasons.


Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 02:53 PM:

Why is it that nine out of ten people who get disemvowelled for rudeness think it's because their deathless opinions are being suppressed? Lest you fall any further into this error, MJH, let me assure you that your first post got disemvowelled because you were being rude. You might have gotten away with it if the post had been more interesting, but that's life.

You lost the vowels in your first paragraph this time around for similar reasons. Good netiquette suggests that if you haven't been reading discussions in this weblog long enough to find out that there is no local orthodoxy, it may be too early for you to be launching into flaming denunciations.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to look up "paralepsis" and "fascism" -- the former for its meaning, the latter for its spelling.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 03:05 PM:

Terry, flag burning is one of the biggest non-issues in the Amerian political discourse. Some years everybody argues about it. Other years, they don't. Either way, the flag's still there.

People whose flag is affected by being burned have given their object of veneration to every two-bit protestor on this planet, and for this carelessness they deserve what they get.

Someone whose flag can be burned has a lesser flag than mine. When the burning's over, my flag is still there.

MadJayhawk ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 06:47 PM:

You got disemvowelled because saying that someone here is "fll f hrse pp" is rude. Our Moderator will tolerate dissenting opinions gladly, but not rudeness.

And as for the comparison you cite: you probably wouldn't risk disemvowelment for that. Hails of derision, yes, but not disemvowelment.

Oooooooooooooooooookay. I will stand myself in a corner then go without supper.

As long as I see non-rude phrases like 'hails of derision' and references to uninteresting posts concerning the content of my posts, I will let the orthodoxy thing go for now. I accepted your assignment and have looked up them there misspelled and interesting words you thoughtfully and non-rudely pointed out to me. Paralepsis: I knew about the technique but not the name. Was I really guilty of using paralepsis? (http://www.plasticbag.org/archives/2003/04/on_paralepsis_part_two.shtml) No excuse on spelling fascism properly other than perhaps sloppy typing and editing. My spelling, typing, grammar, sentence structure, editing, and logic all need to be improved upon. I'll work on it.

Some petty rhetorical questions about rudeness:
This is not rude? "if the post had been more interesting" You will have to get used to me being dull unless you boot me, because I am.
And "MadJayhawk is "fll f hrs pp"" is not rude?
How about the words "deathless opinions"?

Enough about the weblog's and my little personality quirks - back to the issue. Now that I know the rules, I hope I can positively, intelligently, and non-rudely add extremely interesting tidbits to the discussion from this point on. One question: do you have a program that disemvowels or do you have to do it yourself?

Flag burning is not a non-issue with most people. Around 80% of the people surveyed favor an amendment to prohibit it. http://www.landmarkcases.org/texas/data_analysis.html You might guess that many people do not understand the issues involved and are probably responding to recalled feelings they had when the images of someone burning a flag were being shown on TV. Because desecrating the flag is a popular issue with masses the politicians keep trying to add an amendment to the constitution prohibiting it. A winning issue for them. The fact that the suggested amendment contains no definition of the words flag or desecrate should scare everyone a bit because the amendment leaves the definitions up to Congress.

Texas v Johnson struck down a Texas law concerning flag desecration and is considered a landmark case on the issue. That Supreme Court decision has led to the repeated attempts to get constitutional amendment legislation passed.

Passage of the constitutional amendment legislation and the amendment's approval will cause problems. The Congress will be able to safely pass constitutionally correct legislation defining flags, desecration, etc. and then the Supreme Court will to have to rule on whether acts of flag desecration are protected free speech or violate the law. It seems to me that would put us right back where we started: is, say flag burning, free speech or not? Remember in the case of burning a cross it was ruled that cross burning was not free speech and therefore could be prohibited. Flag burning could easily go from being considered free speech to being outlawed. This amendment is a bad idea.

The words 'free speech' as found in the constitution are progressively getting more blurry with every SC decision involving the issue. More and more things, words, and expressions are being equated with not having the right to yell fire in a crowded theater. I don't know if that is good or not.

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 07:15 PM:

I recall an interesting little paradox from the last run-around with this.

Flag-burning, it is claimed, is wrong.

Yet the officially approved method of disposing of a worn-out, irreparable, uncleanable, US flag is to burn it.

Maybe the answer is to forbid dis-honouring the flag...

Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 07:30 PM:

When the burning's over, my flag is still there.

Bravissimo, Teresa. Yes, it is. And yet...

I'm thinking about a group of mannerless oafs in Sioux Ste Marie, who notoriously made a point of trampling the Quebec provincial flag into the mud, in front of some reporters, at a time when passions really did not need to be further inflamed.

It isn't the flag -- it isn't the piece of coloured cloth -- that matters. It's the aimed intent to insult that hurts, and rouses anger. Like your disemvowellment policy: You're not a prude; you don't really care about 'forbidden' words from someone who uses them for emphasis, or just as a regular part of their speech. Rudeness is in the (perceived) intent to offend.

Well. Without wishing to belabour the comparison... I'm just saying, symbols matter - and you know that. A symbolic action differs in its meaning depending on who's doing it and why. The people who would actually burn an American flag with the intent to insult and offend the United States of America, your whole nation, by and large don't even live in the US and won't be touched by this law. As for protestors in the US, they will have to find a different symbol for their government, as distinct from their country.

Which might not be such a bad outcome, anyway. It's a distinction that needs to be made a lot more clearly. The whole mischief comes about because the right-wing half of America has been allowed to symbolically appropriate the flag that belongs to all. That's theft; you need to take it back, rather than compound the confusion.

Mike ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 09:42 PM:

As a logical matter, a constitutional amendment can't be unconstitutional.

But you knew that.

This is a bad idea whose time has come. God help us.

terry.karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2003, 10:59 PM:

Me, I find the flag a potent symbol. Seeing someone burn it, or trample it, can piss me off mightily.

But it is not a sacred object. It is not an idol wherein the little tin god which is, "America" resides, to protect us from harm.

Given the nature of our origen (rebellion) and the history of our politics I can see places where those who oppose something might make so potent a statement (and the writ of this will not affect those outside our bounds) as to burn a flag.

I might even agree that so strong a protest was patriotic (if ill-conceived).


Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 12:25 AM:

The first time I saw someone unfurl a black flag, I was startled to discover how unnerving it was. I hadn't realized my hindbrain had opinions about the matter.

As I've mentioned on previous occasions, not only do I have an American flag in my front window, but it was there long before 9/11. Why? Because it's my flag. I've never ceded it to the far right, or to any other gang of idiots. It's mine, just like it's my country, my laws, my government, my elections, and my elected officials. (Sometimes the officials need reminding about this, but that doesn't stop them from being my elected officials.) I frankly cannot believe that so many otherwise intelligent people have thought it small matter to cede all those things to the opposition.

Flags are important. That's why people bother to burn them. It's not meant to be reassuring. Way I figure it, if you make it even more threatening and shocking and forbidden to burn flags, you're just guaranteeing that people will burn them, esp. when they need the "speech act" equivalent of a very strong word.

A formulation I came up with way back when, at the end of my first year as a philosophy minor, is that any time you define some bit of creation as being more real than some other part, you're in trouble. It may not be obvious now, but somewhere on down the line there's going to be metaphysical payback.

A law making the American flag the one single emblem we aren't allowed to diss is assigning it a singular metaphysical value. We're to understand that the act of destroying crucifixes, ikons, Torahs, Korans, facsimiles of the Constitution, or copies of the Bill James Baseball Abstract, has no effect on the things they represent; but that burning the flag is somehow a significant affront to the Republic. We're saying that meaning is somehow embodied in that physical object in a way that doesn't hold true for artifacts that are merely symbolic.

Conveniently, we have a word for this: idolatry. If there are any congressmen for whom this isn't a concern, they're of course free to vote for it; but I have to wonder about all the others.

Dennis Slater ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 01:30 AM:

symbolically appropriate the flag that belongs to all

How does one symbolically appropriate something that belongs to all of us in a metaphysical sense? That sounds like a task for someone who might have supernatural powers the rest of us aren't blessed with.

Conveniently, we have a word for this: idolatry.

Do you think that idolatry is really a big problem here? My neighbors and I put out our little Wal-Mart flags each day. I seriously doubt there is any big time idolatry going on on my street at least. I put my flag out because I have one, because I love our country, because am proud to use the flag to say so, and because putting it out makes me and my family feel good. I assume my neighbors feel the same way. If they don't, I will never know unless they take the time to tell me. If this the idolatry you are worried about, it doesn't seem to be much of a problem from where I sit. I haven't seen any neighbors bow down to their flag or even salute it. I don't do those things either.

To me the flag is a nice piece of cloth. I did not join the Marines to fight and die for a piece of cloth. No one I knew in the Marines did.

Flying the flag out in front of my house hopefully tells people that I am proud to be an American. It says nothing about them. I don't intend for it to. It is like the Purdue University flag my neighbor flies on Saturdays when Purdue is going to lose. He is proud to be a alumni of Purdue. I am happy for him that he feels that pride and sense of belonging even though his school's football team normally stinks. His Purdue flag doesn't say anything about me nor does it offend me. No idolatry there either I'm afraid and sensible conservatives wouldn't want to appropriate that flag.

I haven't seen any of those hated conservatives trying to appropriate my flag either nor have any asked to to cede it to them. If they really need one I will give them mine without a fight and get another. Or if someone needs my flag for a protest, it is theirs to burn. I believe people should be able to protest anything they want to as long as they do not break any laws. I'll get another.

An American flag will be on my casket unless, of course, one of those nasty conservatives pries it out of my cold, dead hands. After the beautiful funeral service, my wife will set the flag on the coffee table next to the urn filled with my ashes. That is a pleasant thought unless she eventually puts me and the flag in a closet to make some room on the table for some magazines, cold drinks and a TV remote or because the grandkids keep knocking me over onto the floor.

Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 02:30 AM:

How does one symbolically appropriate something that belongs to all of us in a metaphysical sense?

I don't know how they pulled it off. Maybe someone who was here at the time can explain.

I live right now in New Jersey, which is a peculiar political patchwork of small towns that don't resemble each other much at all. The effect is quite visible. Where I live, the population is mostly black and Hispanic. Three miles away there's a prosperous picture-postcard town with not a black face to be seen. Another town five miles away is predominantly Indian. I take a train into New York through Newark, and the tracks go past rich and poor and rich again, urban blight and white picket fences, in no particular order. During the 2000 election, it was pretty clear from lawn signs which towns were voting mostly Republican, which Democratic. But you didn't need the political lawn signs to tell; ostentatious displays of the flag gave the same result.

Right after 9/11, that wasn't the case. Then, flags were everywhere. But now? Only in the solidly Republican towns... along with the yellow ribbons that were so perky in March but are by now looking a bit bedraggled. "I'm a real American!" and "I support the troops."

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 07:56 PM:

Lovely post, Dennis. I wouldn't have thought idolatry was a big problem either, though lately I've had my doubts.

Do you fly the Marine Corps flag along with it, or just the Stars and Stripes?

The first time the soon-to-be wife of my eldest brother came to meet the family, there was some kind of last-minute logistical cockup, and she got left for a while making conversation with my youngest brother, Paul. He's always had a wicked straightfaced delivery. He also spent two years as a missionary in Japan.

He and Bev were being terribly polite to each other. "Would you like to meet our grandmother?" he asked.

"I'd love to," she said.

Paul got the urn of Grandma's ashes down out of the closet, set it on the carpet, knelt, and bowed to it, reverently and with great ceremony. "We bring her out every Christmas," he said. "And sometimes, when we're having a party, we bring her out and give her a little shake so she can have a good time too."

MadJayhawk ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2003, 02:52 AM:

Grandma probably appreciated the little shake and the small measure idolatry that went with the show. I know I would. Nice story. Worthy of the Reader's Digest.

My flag flaps in the gentle desert breezes alone. I do not have Marine Corps flag or tattoo. I left the Marine Corps behind me when I saw the base's guard gate fading in my rear view mirror on my last day of active duty. I wanted to say on my last day as a Marine, but I am afraid once a Marine always a Marine. Or is it always a Jet? I spent a good deal of my Marine Corps free time curled up on my bunk with a good book and not with my somewhat rusty rifle. I was not brave, courageous, or gung-ho, but I knew quite a few kids/men that were. Sadly some of their names are on The Wall.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2003, 06:14 PM:

You know, I have no problem with idolatry, aside from the people who want to have it enshrined in the Constitution.

The trouble with prohibiting the desecration of the flag is that by so doing, you have a legal precedent declaring it sacred. This is wrong, not because it's idolatry--taboo in several major religions--but because it abridges the freedom of religion for those people for whom nothing is sacred or at least for whom that particular symbol is not sacred. It would be just as wrong to have a Constitutional amendment declaring that the flag was not sacred, because this would abridge the freedom of religion of those who wanted to use it as an object of veneration, treat it as a magical amulet, and so on.

Freedom of religion means freedom of everyone's religion, including the ones you personally find stupid, offensive or even outright profane. Some religions declare sex aside from married wedlock procreation purposes profane. Others view it as sacred and have naked, ahem, "skyclad," priestesses lead the Great Rite on May Day.

Declaring what is sacred and what is profane is establishing a state religion, plain and simple.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2003, 06:51 PM:

Declaring what is sacred and what is profane is establishing a state religion, plain and simple.

I should add: if done by the state.

MadJayhawk ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2003, 01:56 AM:

Declaring what is sacred and what is profane is establishing a state religion, plain and simple.

Did I miss something? I thought that the new amendment wording to the constitution was pretty simple and straight forward. I see no mention of the word 'sacred' in the amendment. If you are jumping from the word 'desecrate' to 'sacred' to establishment of a state religion I think that is a somewhat of a stretch to put it mildly. It looks like you pushed over a neatly lined up row of religious dominos when you did not have to.

This amendment is a bad idea. Why it is bad is because it does not define what a flag is and what desecrate means. Desecrating a flag or treating a flag disrespectfully or outrageously, could mean absolutely anything. A flag could be anything as well, not just a cloth rectangle with designs on it. Is putting a dirty pair of boxer shorts with flag designs in the dumpster desecration? Are bras made out of material with flag designs a flag? There is proposed legislation in Congress right now that attempts to address these issues. That same type of legislation is what will have to be enacted once the amendment passes.

There are also very serious issues concerning the conflict between this amendment and the amendment protecting free speech. Instead of the constitution determining what constitutes free speech we will have legislation defining it once this amendment passes. The courts will eventually have to sort it all out.

So I think dredging up religious arguments against the amendment is unnecessary unless by doing so the person who does it is fantasizing about scoring a few silly political points by somehow trying to link all Republicans to a small group of religious conservatives. Before going off the deep end with that line of attack keep in mind that almost 50% of the Democrats in the House voted for this amendment. Do you want to paint them with the same religious nutcake brush that you are trying to use on all Republicans with the feeble desecrate/sacred/state religion connection?

MadJayhawk ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2003, 02:20 AM:

Right after 9/11, that wasn't the case. Then, flags were everywhere. But now? Only in the solidly Republican towns... along with the yellow ribbons that were so perky in March but are by now looking a bit bedraggled. "I'm a real American!" and "I support the troops."

I have read this several times. I am trying to comprehend what point you are trying to make. Republicans are faux-Americans because they fly their flags? People in the poor part of town aren't real Americans because they do not fly a flag? There is a point isn't there?

I still see flags everywhere. In barrios and in the suburbs of our town. I haven't taken the time to count them in each part of town to see if I can make a political point out of one part of town having more flags than another. To me all parts of our town seem to have flags out.

People in each part of our town, I believe, felt the same about 9/11 right after it happened and still do: A deep sense of saddness and loss for those killed and for those who have to go on and a sense of frustration about being powerless to have kept it from happening and perhaps from happening again. We all stand together on that.

I put my flag out to say that I am proud to be an American. I makes me feel good. It is not out to put someone down or to get in anyone's face about me being a better American than they are. I think that the folks with flags in front of their homes in barrio probably feel the same way as I do. We are brothers you know. We are all Americans. Whether we fly the flag or not.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2003, 01:38 PM:

A friend of mine who took part in some demonstrations in the 1960s wherein flags were burned had this comment about that: "We should have washed it," she said, "That was what we meant."

Another friend wrote a play that was a debate between a Christian Fundamentalist and a Buddhist. The CF accuses the Buddhist of idolatry. "How so?" asks the Buddhist.

"You worship that statue of the Buddha," says the CF, at which point the Buddhist picks up the statue and smashes it on the ground. Then she takes out a Bible.

"OK, now you piss on this." The CF reacts with suitable shock. "Now who's an idolater?" asks the Buddhist with a smile.

I would never burn the flag. But I want the right to, because I might want to do something else that's equally outrageous. I don't want to ride the slippery slope those fascist bastards are setting us up with. (Another name for a slippery slope: the skids, as in hit the.)

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2003, 08:06 PM:

MadJayHawk: an obvious ground for Teresa's observation is that the displayed flag has mutated from a statement supporting the ideals that founded this country to a statement supporting the current actions of the country. This isn't just perception; think about what the term "flag-waving" means.

This cuts both ways, of course; the usual reason for flagburning in this country is rage at what the country is doing rather than the feeling that the founding fathers were completely wrong. (Completely, not just in specifics.) As many people have observed (including several in this discussion), it's a pity that the flag has descended to this one-dimensional meaning; it tends to reduce what should be a discussion to "How dare you attack my country" (with which too many people have too close an identification). (It's certainly easy from my left-of-this-country's-center position to blame the parties on the other side of that line for this debasement, especially when the mainline press quotes Republican operatives desiring to make politics "nastier".)

Which leads to your question about the Democrats who voted for this amendment; what they believe is subject to question, but what they know is that this vote would be used against them, with all the force of campaign simplification and distortion, at the next election. The flag amendment is hardly the only such case; here in Massachusetts the legislature has twice used parliamentary maneuvers to shut down consideration of all constitutional amendments rather than vote down the local haters' version of "Defense of Marriage". This ought to sound like paranoia; after the empty idiocy of the Whitewater investigation, and the comic-opera impeachment (that couldn't even hold all the votes of the party pushing it), and the defeat of a Senator who left three limbs in Vietnam on specious claims of lack of patriotism ... it doesn't.

Dennis Slater ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2003, 03:19 AM:


It was interesting that you defended only the no votes of some of the Democrats who demonstated a lack of personal intergrity. You could have probably included some Republicans who also probably also feared the overwhelming power of a simple negative ad. There were Republicans that voted against the amendment as well, including my own first term conservative Republican representative. My opinion of him went up a couple of notches with that vote. Political backbone against one's own party or in general is hard to find.

Note on Max Cleland. Cleland was not overwhelmingly popular in Georgia before Chambliss's ads were broadcasts. The ads Chambliss ran were hitting below the belt and I understand that there was some backlash against Chambliss for running them as there should have been.

The ads were deemed effective in neutralizing Cleland's outstanding Vietnam service record. The ads on both sides were nasty and like all attack ads they seemed to be untrue to a degree. One thing that favored Chambliss was that President Bush visited Georgia 5 times during the campaign. President Bush was very popular in Georgia at the time. And there was a larger than normal turnout by Republicans in the election. It looks to me that Cleland did not run an effective campaign and his defeat can not attributed solely to the negative ads Chambliss ran against him.