Flags bring out the worst in people, and the American flag is no exception.
A flag is nothing more than a benign inanimate piece of cloth fashioned by design and colors into a symbol representation of an abstract idea. Flags are mere representations of abstract ideas. Flags are vehicles of expression of abstract ideas.
People often become emotionally unhinged over the mere expression of abstract ideas associated with flags – especially the American flag.
A California high school principal refused to allow a group of students to wear American flag designed t-shirts on Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday, fearing that they would spark offense and perhaps even violence between Mexican American and Anglo students on the campus.
Such American flag designed clothing is perfectly permissible student attire at the school on every day of the year except Cinco de Mayo. Mexican American students, on the other hand, are permitted to wear Mexican flag designed clothing on Cinco de Mayo and any other day of the year.
When the “offending” students refused to remove their American flag shirts, or turn them inside out, the principal sent them home. Their parents filed suit in federal district court claiming violations of First Amendment freedom of speech and expression rights.
Surely this case is a no-brainer, right? The students’ First Amendment Constitutional rights were clearly violated.
Not so, declared a district judge who affirmed the principal’s action and dismissed the claims. Citing past clashes at the school over flag colors on the Mexican holiday, Chief U.S. District Judge James Ware of San Francisco said school officials "reasonably forecast that [the shirts] could cause a substantial disruption" and could therefore take steps to prevent it.
On the previous Cinco de Mayo, a group of Mexican-American students walked around with a Mexican flag, prompting a group of Anglo students to display an American flag and chant "USA" together with threats and profanities directed toward the Latino’s.
That was apparently enough to persuade the judge to condone the principal’s First Amendment violations. In short, if a display of the American flag might offend and make someone angry; this judge thinks it’s perfectly alright to ban the expression.
If the U.S. Supreme Court affirms this nonsense, we might as well kiss the First Amendment goodbye.
At the other end of the flag flap spectrum are found the American flag worshipers – the ones who become angry if school children aren’t genuflecting to their flag every day of the year.
Nebraska State Sen. Tony Fulton is introducing a bill that will mandate every classroom in the state display an American flag and require all kindergarten through high school students to be led in a group recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag every school day of the year.
The bright idea for this travesty upon the First Amendment came from Lincoln businessman Richard Zierke, an ex-Marine who discovered one day that Nebraska and six other states, the District of Columbia and two territories do not have a law that addresses the pledge.
"I said, 'This is crazy,” Zierke declared to a Lincoln Nebraska newspaper. So he called upon Sen. Fulton to report the “craziness” and Fulton agreed to sponsor the law.
Reciting the pledge teaches patriotism and instills American exceptionalism in the kids according to Zierke. It’s also a stepping stone to young people making decisions about how they could serve their country, including stints in the military, he reasons.
"I don't want to say my country is slipping away, but teaching patriotism and the flag is not being done," Zierke said.
So he insists on using the heavy hand of the law to violate the First Amendment rights of school children by forcing them to recite a loyalty oath expressing his American flag ideas. Obviously, he doesn’t care much about the First Amendment.
And the District Judge in San Francisco would no doubt approve – for every day that is except Cinco de Mayo.