Flag Burning Isn't Civil Disobedience

Article excerpt

In his article "Lessons from the U.S. War on Iraq" (July/August 2003 issue of the Humanist), Greg Shafer makes several excellent points.

Many Bush administration policies do indeed advocate the condemnation of voices of opposition as voices of the unpatriotic. In addition, Shafer is very accurate in his perception that the Patriot Act has placed new restraints on the freedom that U.S. citizens have been guaranteed.

I especially enjoyed Shafer's commentary regarding democracy, in which he states, "Democracy ... is never a stable and fixed entity.... It is the product of tenacious struggle and unremitting pursuit." This is the result of some citizenry movements that have operated within the parameters of law in order to correct injustices. Others have had to incorporate civil disobedience, accepting the fact that by transgressing an improper law or societal attitude legal punishment may result.

However, Shafer then endorses flag burning as a legitimate means to correct injustices. I disagree. A flag is a symbol and the U.S. flag represents the sum total of all laws and actions--from the inception of the U.S. Constitution to its most current amendment and legal interpretations.

In normal acts of civil disobedience, the actor knowingly accepts the personal suffering and legal punishment resultant from unlawful disobedience. When one burns the flag, however, the act of civil obedience extends beyond the boundaries of an endeavor to change an existing state attitude. Such an action not only attempts to seek redress but also rejects the total system upon which that individual and society--represented symbolically by the flag--function peacefully with reciprocal respect and tolerance. …