What a Flag Represents


Filed Under General, Latest News on Jul 29 

As the NYPD assigns a team of dozens of detectives to solve the Brooklyn Bridge case, we are left with two main concerns. Vulnerability to terrorism is the first one; how could four or five intruders have climbed the bridge and replaced the flags, including blocking out the spotlights, without being noticed? One of NYC’s most iconic structures was easily breached. It is beyond doubt that when their identities are established and more is known, measures will be put in place to ensure it never happens again. The why will be important to find out, but the how is even more important to help the NYPD establish the right procedures to stop this type of assault.

The second concern is symbolic speech and flag desecration. A few years ago, UCLA Law professor Eugene Volokh in an op-ed piece argued that American law has long recognized symbolic expression and verbal expression as legally and constitutionally equivalent. Symbolic expressions like freedom poles – a form of protest against government tyranny – were argued in court as a matter of apeech according to the professor. The First Amendment thus conveniently protects flag-burning and other desecrations. Well maybe not. Even professor Volokh admits that many Founding Fathers placed very clear limits on the concept of free speech itself. Flag desecration would have been seen as sedition, and was prohibited accordingly. It has been 25 years since Texas v Johnson and the swing vote in that case was Justice Kennedy who was appointed instead of Robert Bork, who would have voted the other way. Perhaps what is most infuriating is that most acts of desecration are not explicitly intended to express an idea, but are a instead an intentional degrading of an idea; the values that a flag symbolizes. Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of the 5 marines and the navy corpsman raising the Stars and Stripes on Mount Surbachi at Iwo Jima is one of the world’s most popular images and for good reason. No posed sculpture or painted image can capture the purpose and valor, and deliberate, unified action of those men. Three of them: Harlon Block, Franklin Sousley, and Michael Strank gave their lives in battle in the following days. When we know the names of those who desecrated the flags that once again fly from the Brooklyn Bridge, it will be good to keep in mind those marines who gave their lives defending the Stars and Stripes. Let us hope that SCOTUS at some point places limits around the concept itself of free speech, in recogntion of what some symbols, like a flag, represent.