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3. Desecrating the Flag

Hysteria is sweeping the land about the supposed honor of the American flag, and throughout the country, state, and federal legislators are competing with each other in proposing ever stiffer punishments for the high crime of desecration. Eager-eyed snoopers ferret out any use of flag cloth for covering or in the theater, and the long arm of the law quickly reaches out to apprehend and chastise these often unwitting criminals. We await some fervent patriot proposing death by torture for the high crime of mistreating a piece of cloth with red and white stripes.

For, if we sit back for a moment and reflect on the whole issue, the first thing that should be clear is that this is what the flag is: a simple piece of cloth with parallel stripes of certain colors. And the first thing we should ask ourselves is: What is there about a piece of cloth that suddenly makes it sacred, holy, and above defilement when red and white stripes are woven into it? Contrary to many hysterical politicians, the flag is not our country, and it is not the freedom of the individual. The flag is simply a piece of cloth. Period. Therefore, he who tampers with or desecrates that piece of cloth is not posing a grave threat to our freedoms or to our way of life.

Consider the implications of taking the opposite position: if the flag is not just a piece of cloth, this means that some form of mystical transubstantiation takes place, and that weaving a piece of cloth in a certain manner suddenly invests it with great sanctity. Most people who revere the flag in this way are religious; but to apply to a secular object this kind of adoration is nothing more nor less than idolatry. Religious people should be on their guard always against the worship of grave images, and their worship of State flags is just that kind of idolatry.

If, indeed, the flag is a symbol of anything throughout history, it has been the battle standard of the State, the banner it raises when it goes into battle to kill, burn, and maim innocent people of some other country. All flags are soaked in innocent blood, and to revere these particular kinds of cloth becomes not only idolatry, but grotesque idolatry at that, for anyone who loves individual liberty.

There is another crucial point in this whole controversy that nobody seems to have mentioned. When someone buys flag cloth, this cloth is his private property, to do with as he wishes ... to revere, to place in his closet ... or to desecrate. How can anyone believe otherwise who believes in the right of private property? Anti-desecration laws and ordinances are outrageous invasions of the right of private property, and on this ground alone they should be repealed forthwith.