You Should Burn An American Flag This 4th of July

I burnt the flag because I love America.

I burnt the flag because I hate America.

Above is a photo of myself on a July 4th a few years ago. The tone is one of punk adolescent fun. I didn’t have any sort of message in mind when the photo was taken. However as I’ve become more and more coherent in my own political philosophy, the symbolism of the moment has clarified itself, ex post facto. I think everyone should burn an American flag this 4th of July.

Free speech is an American principle. The United States of American was one of the first places in the world where it was written out as a formal legal right. Of course, it wasn’t until the late 20th century, with cases like US v. Eichman and Texas v. Johnson, that flag burning was recognized as protected symbolic speech. As long as you own the flag and the fire doesn’t spread, you have every legal right to take a lighter to The Star-Spangled Banner.

In many countries, flag burning is a crime. Just a few years ago Israel passed an amendment declaring that anyone convicted of burning a national flag could see 3 years in prison. In 2010, 17 Algerians were sentenced to 6 years of imprisonment for the action. We can not forget how precious and rare our rights are. In many ways, by burning a flag you are celebrating your right to do so. Flag burning is the ultimate expression of your First Amendment freedom of speech. As a controversial action pushes the limits of what is considered protected speech. What’s the point of this right if you don’t use it to do controversial acts? We must exercise our rights to reinforce their value. You should burn a flag if you love America.

Of course, when most people burn an American flag, it’s not out of love of country but out of criticism and protest. This too has its value. The American government is no angel. It has caused great harm in both the past and present. The NSA spies on Americans by collecting their phone data and tracing their online presence. The US Military drone strikes foreign hospitals and murders American citizens. Chattel slavery, Jim Crow, and Japanese internment camps are all scars on the history of this nation.

It would seem the symbolism of destroying the national flag is an appropriate protest for these national evils. Through desecration of the flag we demonstrate disapproval and take back some of our power. It is an expression against tyranny. You should burn a flag if you hate America.

If you find flag burning offensive, you must understand the complexity of symbols. For many celebrating the flag is just as offensive. The viewer interprets the symbolism to mean endorsement of many terrible things. Certainly that fact that it is offensive would not justify banning the 4th of July celebration. Similarly, you should not seek to criminalize flag burning either. Beyond even criminalization there is good reason to endorse and enjoy this activity.

Flag burning celebrates the freedoms you have and reinforces their value.

Flag burning protests injustice and tyranny, giving voice to the voiceless.

Perhaps this 4th of July, you too should burn an american flag.

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