Although the US has sent Syrian rebels millions of dollars to help them overthrow President Bashar Al-Assad, a recent video showed these same rebels burning an American flag. The consulate attacks in Libya also involved American flag burning, as did recent protests in Pakistan, where, rather eerily, a protester died from inhaling the flag's fumes. The source of all this rage is the film Innocence of Muslims, which has led mobs around the world to protest harsh depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.
While this rise in Anti-American sentiment is incredibly troubling, we must continue to protect free speech rights at home, particularly the right to burn the American flag. The flag may symbolize important American ideals but it does not embody them. We should allow protesters in our own country to continue to burn the flag since we need to protect individual liberties, provide a safe means for dissidents to express rage, and because it is better to defend the rights the flag represents rather than the piece of cloth itself.
The importance of individual liberty cannot be overstated: America was founded on these notions. After all, Puritans like Cotton Mather came to Massachusetts in 1620 to escape religious persecution. The same could be said of other groups like the Pilgrims, Jews, and Quakers, all of whom faced intense religious persecution in England. This persecution was very real. By 1680, to take one example, "10,000 Quakers had been imprisoned in England, and 243 had died of torture and mistreatment in the King's jails."
Notions of individual liberty, of the right to worship and express ourselves are so fundamental to America's identity that they were highlighted in the First Amendment to the Constitution, which emphasizes that "congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Hence, troubling as some may find flag burning it is a privilege all but guaranteed by our founding fathers. The most recent Supreme Court case on the matter, Texas vs. Johnson, confirmed as much, overturning Gregory Johnson's sentence of one year in prison and a $2000 fine for dousing a flag in kerosene and setting it ablaze since the justices felt flag burning is symbolic speech, which the First Amendment protects.
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