The US Senate is planning to run a law against flag burning up the pole this week to see how many lawmakers salute.
The vote is expected to fail. And it should.
The flag burning law is much like the proposed gay marriage ban amendment: wholly unnecessary. It seeks to protect something that doesn't need protection.
I should make it clear I don't support flag burning. The symbolism of such an act is lost on me, as I ceased worshiping that American idol years ago. But if others want to do so it's not my place to interfere. There is a difference in not supporting something and actively campaigning against it, no matter what some angry consternatives say.
As I see it, there are two elements to the flag:
The physical. The material. This is the thing you buy in the store.
Flags aren't typically free. Well, sometimes the little ones are, but I'm talking about the full-sized ones that people salute. When you buy a flag it belongs to you. It's an article of commerce like any other. So while the flag may belong to all of us, this flag belongs to you.
If you buy a lamp and then take it home and smash it to pieces, whose business is it? Admittedly, that'd be kind of psycho, but not criminal.
The patriotic. This is a thing you can't buy. And this is where the contention begins in earnest.
People have died for the US flag over the years. People hold the flag precious and sacred. They don't want you messing with it. Problem is, by outlawing flag burning you're legislating a belief. You're saying, "This is important to me, so it has to be important to you, too - under penalty of law."
A lot of people hold crucifixes in high regard. That doesn't enable them (so far) to prevent a Satanist buying one and affixing it to his dining room wall upside down. He doesn't see the object the same way, and he doesn't have to.
Now Bogs, you say, what about all those radicals overseas burning US flags? Don't you want to take a symbolic stand against them? Well, symbolism is the issue here. They can destroy the cloth, but that shouldn't destroy its value for anyone who holds it dear. There are more flags where that came from, anyway.
You also have to consider the source of some of these flag burnings, like those overseas radicals I mentioned. Some of them kill and destroy over the Sunday comics, for God's sake. There's no sense in most of their actions, so just take that as some small comfort.
The best bet for anyone who wants to outlaw flag burning is probably to pursue some "unlawful incendiary display" statute - not specific to flags - that addresses the danger of lighting things on fire in public places. But that'd never pass on a national level; it's more the kind of thing you see in local statutes.
I do hope Congress stops taking symbolic election year stands and gets on to important, impactful issues soon.