Thursday, September 28, 2006

John McCain's reason for voting for a flag desecration amendment

From a letter to me dated August 11, 2006, in response to a letter I sent him criticizing his vote:
Thank you for expressing your views about the issue of flag desecration. I share your concern in this matter.

I believe we have an inviolable duty to protect the right of free speech--one of our most precious inalienable rights and the linchpin of a healthy democracy. I do not believe, however, that guaranteeing respect for our national symbol by prohibiting "acts" of desecration impinges on political "speech."

As long as citizens are free to speak out on any matter and from whatever point of view they wish, as our forefathers intended, it does not seem burdensome to me that we accord some modicum of respect to the symbol of those precious freedoms for which so many of our countrymen have laid down their lives.

Some view these efforts to protect the flag as political demogoguery or empty symbolism, unworthy of the attention it receives. I see the issue differently. The flag represents each and every one of us, regardless of race, religion or political point of view. It is a point of unity in the midst of our great diversity. Tolerating desecration of the flag is silent acquiescence to the degeneration of the broader values which sustain us as a free and democratic nation--the ramifications of which are far more profound than mere symbolism.

For these reasons, I have support [sic] a constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration. I voted for such language in previous Congresses, but unfortunately, the tally has always fallen short of the 67 affirmative votes necessary for approval. Additionally, I have cosponsored legislation to statutorily provide protection for the flag in a manner that will be upheld by the Supreme Court.

Again, thank you for your interest in this important issue. I hope you will continue to share your views with me on this or any other matter of concern to you and our nation.

John McCain
United States Senator
Senator McCain states that "Tolerating desecration of the flag is silent acquiescence to the degeneration of the broader values which sustain us as a free and democratic nation." But this completely ignores the fact that it is not only possible but certain that voices will loudly speak out in criticism of flag desecration--that's not silent acquiescence, that's fighting bad speech with good speech, which is the whole point of the First Amendment.

McCain explicitly recognizes that the flag is a symbol. It's a symbol that can be represented in art, language, binary data, and a Penn and Teller illusion. (Penn & Teller's illusion raises the question of whether the symbolic desecration of a symbol is any different from an actual desecration of a symbol.) To place limits on the contexts that symbol can be placed in or on transformations of that symbol is to place limits on free expression, and to place limits on the principle of freedom of speech that lies behind the First Amendment.

By his willingness to make a special exception for this symbol, McCain is doing damage to a constitutional principle. His position on this issue is just as wrong as his position on trying to protect government from the consequences of violating the First Amendment in his vote for the PERA Act, and just as contrary to his oath of office.


Einzige said...

The main question I have for people who share McCain's perspective is this:

Just how does restricting people's freedom (as banning flag desecration certainly does) "guarantee respect" for a symbol of freedom?

It seems to me that such a ban is a far far worse example of desecration than anything that could be done to, e.g., a piece of colored cloth.

Lippard said...

That's an excellent question. Of course it doesn't "guarantee respect," it just criminalizes certain displays of disrespect.