Earlier in the week there was a flap in the news media over a protest at Valdosta State where several unidentified individuals had placed a flag on the ground and were walking on it. Michelle Manhart, an Air Force vet who witnessed the protest, went up to the protestors and took their flag from them. This resulted in her detainment by VSU police and her resisting arrest.
After VSU police returned the property to them that Manhunt had taken, the protestors declined to press charges. After releasing Manhart without charges but with a criminal trespass warning the officers requested student identifications from the protestors. After refusing to show them any school IDs, the VSU police broke up the protest and sent them on their way.
The response from the conservative media and from various voices on social media has been predictable and, frankly, the same old song whenever they have the chance to wave a flag and talk about the “sanctity” of the flag. There has been a lot of talk about “freedom” while demanding punishment for those who “desecrated the sanctity” of the flag. In other words, praising freedom while demanding that it be taken away from us. First things first, the flag is neither sacred nor holy. It’s also interesting, if not also a little hilarious, to see many who loudly proclaim “Christian Values!” as their way of life essentially declare that we as citizens of the United States must worship a false idol.
A flag is nothing more than cloth with dye on it. It’s a material object stitched together, often not even here in this country anymore, and raised up in front of a crowd. It also has no more real value than whatever the person is willing to pry open their wallet and pay for it.
The things that have value, the things that should be deemed as sacred, are the ideas that people believe that the flag represents. Those are the things that have meaning, and those are the things that should be preserved. One of those ideas, a cornerstone of the freedoms of our country, is the freedom of expression. We can speak and engage in symbolic speech that others deem as repellent or vulgar, but it is our right to so.
For the record, I think the action of walking on the flag was idiotic, just as I think burning the flag is. But the more idiotic act to take would be to proclaim that our “freedoms” mean that we must restrict our most basic freedoms to suit those with tiny minds. Tiny minds fear and attempt to suppress the things they dislike, and, at least to the best of my knowledge, America has never been about tiny minds governed by fear or stupidity.
If that’s the type of country you wish to live in, if that’s the “freedom” you wish to champion, there are countries out there already set up for you. They have names like China and Iran. There are others as well if you don’t like the sounds of those two. There are plenty of countries where speech against the various symbols of that country is actually deemed as punishable. But America isn’t one of them yet, no matter how much some of you seem to wish that it were.
The flag is not a sacred artifact and cannot be desecrated. It can be walked on, torn up, and burned by as many angry people that want to do so, and the most important part of it, the ideas that people use the image of the flag to symbolize, will never be touched, will never be harmed. What will harm these ideas is mindless “patriotism” and flag waving in the form of things like demanding punishment for those who say or do something with it that you dislike or by demanding that the flag be enshrined as sacred in the Constitution.
You either believe in the freedoms that the flag you claim to hold as “sacred” represents or you don’t. But do not be as hypocritical as to declare yourself a champion of America’s freedoms and to praise them even as you demand that the very things that are the ideas personified in that flag be stifled, repressed, and removed from the citizenry who live under that flag.
“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”
― Salman Rushdie
Turns out that newly minted conservative hero Manhart has had two other brushes with fame/controversy. Interestingly, they both involve the things she’s currently banging the drum about everywhere she’s gotten interviewed.
Manhart has been big on playing up her former military status, but the reason she quit betrays her talk now of her devotion to service. She’s the same Michelle Manhart who posed for playboy in 2007 in her uniform. This is a clear and known violation of the regulations she was suppose to live by. Rather than continue to serve while facing the consequences of her actions, demotion to a lower rank, she quit and tried to parley that into a job.
Oh, yeah… She’s also a PETA freak. The PETA thing is of interest because of her recent comments about the U.S. Flag Code. See, according to the U.S Code when dealing with the flag, the flag may not touch the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise and the flag should never be used as apparel nor drawn up in folds. Apparently she has a selective level of outrage about violating that code. She’s only upset when others are doing it and when she does profit or benefit from it as can be seen below.
Still, as far as promoting their new hero of the moment, this isn’t as potentially embarrassing as Hobby Lobby Holly, adulteress who cheated on her veteran husband by having an affair with a Tea Party leader, the racist Cliven Bundy, or the band of goons who supported him, some of whom decided the revolution was coming, murdered law enforcement officials, and covered their bodies with the Tea Party’s flag of choice. But, still…