“What emotions do you feel when you see an American flag burn?”
I remember quite clearly the day a college political science professor posed the question to my class.
I knew the answers she was looking for, and my classmates quickly gave them to her: anger, rage, sadness, etc.
I said, “respect.”
Now I was known for arguing less-than-usual positions in poly sci class by simple virtue of the fact that I didn’t believe the same things as my classmates, but in this case I didn’t think I was being a pain in the ass. So I was surprised when everyone including the professor looked at me like I was a total loony.
I argued something along the lines of:
“If someone is burning the flag to make a political statement, I think it’s wonderful that we live in a place where it’s legal. It’s easy to respect freedom of expression when you agree with a message. It’s honorable when you defend freedom of expression and you disagree with the message… And furthermore, according to the US Flag Code, burning is the proper way to disposed of a worn-out flag. I’ve been to a flag retirement ceremony, and it can be a beautiful thing.”
I think I completely derailed the point my professor was trying to make. I also think I solidified my title as class pain in the ass.
Back to my point.
On flag day I like to reflect on the simple fact that the First Amendment means we have the right to set fire to our flag, out of reverence or anger, and that’s really special.
I saw Penn & Teller perform this live last year, and it’s one of the most incredible stage performances I’ve ever seen. I treasure the memory.
Happy Flag Day!