Stars and stripes forever
Symbol's protection requires death of liberty
As the members of the U.S. Congress begin concentrating less on legislation and more on campaigns, the American people have avoided martial law once again.

When this legislative session began, representatives again discussed the merits of prohibiting free citizens from burning American flags.

Flag-burning bans has been touted before, but never with much success. The Supreme Court ruled laws prohibiting flag burning violated the Constitution, so legislators have suggested altering the nation's governing document in order to amend the freedoms it defines.

Americans have always enjoyed tremendous freedom. Americans may openly disagree with the government's policies. Critical editorials fill air and print media. Rush Limbaugh has 15 hours every week to chastise the president's administration. Even during times of war, citizens have been allowed to protest and speak out against their leaders.

Some politicians believe it is time to change everything.

The flag is a powerful symbol of the United States. Americans have penned tributes to the banner, sung songs about it and died for it. The design of the stars and stripes is rich with meaning. In a single design is represents the great nation.

The nation founded on liberty.

Just as the flag is the most powerful symbol of the country, a burning flag is the most powerful symbol of free expression -- a freedom guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. Americans are allowed several levels of demonstration against the government. Certainly some of that expression is more offensive than other forms. Protestors chanting clever rhymes outside the White House are clearly less reverent than a pamphlet denouncing the residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Prohibiting the burning of flags says this particular form of expression is too offensive to tolerate. Unfortunately, this is an arbitrary standard. Future lawmakers may move the standard, and instead of banning only flag burning, Congress may prohibit burning maps of the nation or images of the Statue of Liberty.

A flag burning amendment would amount to bad law. Its enforcement would be nearly impossible. The flag is a symbol, and there is no clear definition of a flag. Protesters would begin burning scraps of cloth with 12 stripes or yellow stars trying to skirt the ban. Clothing stores are stocked with outfits resembling the star-spangled banner, and a flag-burning amendment would need to address such items.

The more complex a law, the greater the overhead required to implement it. The second amendment -- the one promising free speech and the exercise thereof -- is only 45 words long. The language necessary for a flag-burning amendment would run at least hundreds of words. This sort of bureaucratic jargon begs for challenges and loopholes. This is not the sort of thing to put in the Constitution, the foundational document of the government.

Constitutions have simple, broad guidelines, with the understanding that anything violating those broad guidelines is unacceptable. The Supreme Court has established flag-burning bans violate the Constitutional boundaries of government. The Supreme Court has determined a prohibition on flag burning would trample the rights of Americans.

Of course the American flag evokes strong emotions among those who care about the country, but the freedoms unique to the United States are exactly what motivate those feelings.

By trying to protect the national symbol, politicians will destroy it. As the flag becomes sacred and untouchable, it will no longer stand for freedom, but oppression. Protection of liberty sometimes requires the tolerance of the unsavory. Freedom does not come with a manual describing its recommended use, and regulated liberty is not truly liberty.

A legal prohibition of flag burning will set a terrible precedent that could end anywhere. Removing liberty is nothing other than martial law.
Dave Johnston is a senior mathematics major.