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Don't Tread on Me

It’s tough in these recent days to still consider America the greatest country in the world but to me and many others, it still is. There is no other place on this planet that offers its citizens all the freedoms that Americans enjoy daily. Freedoms to practice any religion they choose, and to follow whatever path to happiness they feel right for themselves. The freedoms to express themselves without persecution and the right to protest against any decisions made by either their fellow man or government, without fear of violence or death.

The last freedom I mentioned is the one that gets my curiosity going. This freedom is one that causes alot of uproar from time to time, not so much because of the reasoning behind the protests but more so because of the methods used to protest. One in particular has sparked serious brain noise in me lately; the desecration and defacement of the American Flag.

Every so often we are plagued with news footage or articles on protesters burning or stepping on American flags that causes outrage all over the country. Rightfully so I'm sure. It would seem disrespectful to those who have fought in wars or have served in the military. For those who have served, the American flag is a symbol of peace and freedom. For those who have served in wars or abroad, it's a symbol of home and family. It is completely understandable then why tempers flare at the sight of such actions being taken against their symbol.

So why do people feel the need to use the flag in protest? I think it’s for the same reasons people use the American flag for inspiration. The symbol. Webster defines a symbol as an object that represents, stands for, or suggests an idea, visual image, belief, action, or material entity. Symbols take the form of words, sounds, gestures, or visual images and are used to convey ideas and beliefs. Though the American Flag stands for freedom and rights and home and family to some, to others it may symbolize, oppression, war, greed, and arrogance. This is why I believe some people decide to use this symbol in their protests. How better to gain the attention of those who run this country and the rest of the masses than by desecrating their beloved symbol?

I’ve gotten into few discussions on this subject lately, mostly because of my belief that this issue deserves a bit more thought than most people decide to give it. Like Socrates always said, “question everything.” I have become a person with few absolute beliefs. I have tried to live by Socrates philosophy and I am always challenging my own ideas, even the ones I have held true my entire life. I used to be one of those who met the defacement of the American Flag with absolute rage. I am first generation American on my mother's side (Mexican), and come from a long line of American Military family. I have had immediate family members serve in World War II, Vietnam, Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom . Many of my friends and family have either served or are still in the military, and they will always have my absolute respect. I have always believed that the American soldier is a protector of freedom, be it American Freedoms or for the freedoms of foreign countries. THIS is the thought that started troubling me.

“A protest (also called a remonstrance or a remonstration) is an expression of bearing witness on behalf of an express cause by words or actions with regard to particular events, policies or situations. Protests can take many different forms, from individual statements to mass demonstrations. Protesters may organize a protest as a way of publicly making their opinions heard in an attempt to influence public opinion or government policy, or they may undertake direct action in an attempt to directly enact desired changes themselves.[2] Where protests are part of a systematic and peaceful campaign to achieve a particular objective, and involve the use of pressure as well as persuasion, they go beyond mere protest and may be better described as cases of civil resistance or nonviolent resistance.[3]

Various forms of self-expression and protest are sometimes restricted[4] by governmental policy (such as the requirement of protest permits), economic circumstances, religious orthodoxy, social structures, or media monopoly. When such restrictions occur, protests may assume the form of open civil disobedience, more subtle forms of resistance against the restrictions, or may spill over into other areas such as culture and emigration.

A protest can itself sometimes be the subject of a counter-protest. In such a case, counter-protesters demonstrate their support for the person, policy, action, etc. that is the subject of the original protest.”

The brave actions of the American soldier are to preserve freedom and to protect the rights of the American citizen, and part of the American rights is our right to protest. So one would think that seeing the American citizen practicing one of the rights the soldier fought to protect would make them even prouder of their service, right? Not judging by the reaction of the majority of Americans who feel disrespected when the American Flag is used as a way to gain an audience. This is where the paradox takes place within me.

"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."

Abraham Lincoln

On one hand, my pride for my military family and my country causes outrage when I see anyone defacing the American flag. I believe in the American System even though it has become corrupt in recent generations. I believe in the true purpose of the constitution. I believe in the purity in the rights that are protected by the constitution and the sincerity of the philosophy of our founding fathers when they drafted:

“We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness.”

However strong my pride for my country is, and no matter how much symbolism I put into our American Flag, I can’t help but feel like a hypocrite when I am outraged by the defacement of it. Protestors are within their rights to use this symbol. There is no law against it.

“However repugnant many people may find the defacement a U.S. flag to be, it isn't an illegal act. U.S. Supreme Court decisions (Texas v. Johnson and U.S. v. Eichman) struck down Public Law 101-131 (also known as the Flag Protection Act of 1989), which set forth penalties of fines and/or imprisonment for "whoever knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any flag of the United States," ruling that the desecration of a flag is a form of expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment. (It is sometimes the case, however, that — depending on the circumstances — persons involved in public flag desecrations may be arrested and charged with ancillary crimes, such as trespassing, disturbing the peace, or inciting a riot).”

These are the same rights that I always rant about needing to be respected and protected. These are the rights and freedoms that makes our country so unique. We have the freedom of speech and expression and the right to protest without fear of persecution or violent retaliation from our government! These are the rights that the American soldiers fought for, fight for or have died to protect. As hard as it may be to accept, it was not the flag they fought for, but what the flag represents.

For anyone to decide which rights and freedoms are worth protecting and fighting for, and which ones are not, is wrong.

"If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter."

George Washington

This is part of the frame of mind of picking and choosing which rights to acknowledge going on in Washington. It is continuously being used by the government to strip the American citizens of all their freedoms. I believe that the reason we are shown images of these flags being burnt and stepped on with little information to go along with the images and videos, is so that the masses go with their “knee-jerk” reaction, instead of trying to understand the issues leading to the protesters taking such extreme visualizations. Maybe even being used to provoke legislation against the use of these symbols in protest. This is dangerous and once we attempt and succeed to outlaw any offensive use of any symbol that may encourage an uprising against the government, then all our freedoms to protect ourselves from the government will soon be gone as well. One must attempt to remember that just becasue we don't agree with an idea, does not mean we should have a law against it.

So who is right and who is wrong?

My only conclusion is that they are both right. Those who use the defacement of the American Flag as a form of protest are within their rights to do so. Even though, to my beliefs, using the symbol for the country that grants them the rights to deface the symbol of the country giving them those rights is hypocritical and ignorant, it is still their right to do so.

But on the other hand:

Those reactions of people who become outraged at the absurdity of any actions disrespecting their symbol of freedom, rights, family and home is understandable and those people are also within their rights to their feelings. Since we are on the subject of protest, they are also within their rights to counter protest the negative use of their symbol.

Lastly, I leave you with the question that got my brain moving in the first place - After I read the article on the “Eric Sheppard Challange" encouraging people to stomp on the American Flag and again after I watched videos of people reacting to the defacement of the flag.

Remember the outrage after the attacks on the French satirical weekly newspaper, Charlie Hebdo? And the shooting at a contest for drawings of the Prophet Muhammad in Garland, Texas by Muslim fanatics who were offended by the use of their prophet? Many people felt that both Charlie Hebdo and the hosts of the contest in Texas were within their rights and exercising their freedoms of expression, and chastised the retaliation by the gunmen.

Can one not compare the outrage of the gunmen for the use of their deity to the outrage felt by patriots for the use of their flag and symbol by the protesters?

I believe that the American Flag stands for more than people give it credit for and that it should be treated with respect. I will also always believe in the rights we were endowed by our creator and the rights that are protected by the constitution, and all those who have fought in the military. I only hope that those who meet protesters using the flag in ways they don’t agree with, do so with an open mind and maybe educate the protester on the hypocrisy for negatively using the flag to practice a right that the same flag represents. I also hope that the protesters realize that there are better ways and more direct symbols they can use to get the audience they desire, without looking like a hypocrite and pissing off the majority of the country.

Don't be afraid.... That ringing you hear in your ears is just a bit of ...