The Instigator
TheSkeptic
Pro (for)
Winning
86 Points
The Contender
lordjosh
Con (against)
Losing
40 Points

Burning the Flag of the United States of America Should Be Legal.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/4/2009 Category: Society
Updated: 8 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 3,699 times Debate No: 6784
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (2)
Votes (21)

 

TheSkeptic

Pro

As you should well know, the flag of America is the good 'ole red, white and blue. As a symbol of our nation, I contend that the burning of it in any way for whatever reason - as long as it doesn't physically harm another individual like burning people's houses down - should be legal.

My argument in favor of this is that freedom of speech and expression allows us to burn the flag for reasons such as protest.

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America reads as follows:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." [1]

From virtue of the First Amendment, flag burning should be legal.

---References---
1. http://www.religioustolerance.org...
lordjosh

Con

Hello everyone, and thank you, Skep, for inviting me to debate you on this subject.

As you all have read, my opponent has suggested that burning the American flag, for the purpose of protest, is protected by the first amendment's free speech clause. I disagree. I believe burning the flag, in protest, is treasonous and therefore not protected.

First, lets examine what the free speech clause does protect. It is important to understand the context in which this and the following nine articles of amendments were created and ratified. When the Constitution was being debated for ratification within the individual states, many citizens of those states voiced concern that a) too much authority was being asked to be given to the new federal government, or b) the provisions in the Constitution could be construed to give the new government more authority than was intended and agreed upon. Most states came to a compromise which was that they would ratify the document on the presumption that the first Congress would introduce a "Bill Of Rights" addressing the concerns that the states had. Yet, as Hamilton had argued in his article Federalist Paper #84, "...bills of rights are, in their origin, stipulations between kings and their subjects,..." and are of no use to the document proposed. We were ratifing the authority "We The People" were granting to the United States, not asking for protection of certain liberties against it. In other words, we were telling the government what authority it will have, not bargaining authority away from it. So the first Congress, instead of drafting a bill of rights which was contrary to the philosophy that the new government was created on, presented to the states "furthur declaritory and restrictive clauses" to be amended to the Constitution. In other words, reiterations that these powers were not granted to the United States in Art.I, and more importantly, all authority not granted to the united states is to be left to the states, irregardless of whether it was specifically enumerated in the articles of amendment. See Amndts. IX and X.
So the free speech clause of the first amendment reiterates that the federal government was granted no authority to abridge the freedom of speech. I believe most of us agree on the importance of this natural right in that it protects dissent and unpopular sentiment. So the question, it seems to me, is whether burning the flag is a form of expression of dissent, protected from the authority of the United States, or an act of treason, entirely subject to the authority of the United States.
I will attempt to present an analogy, please bear with me. Suppose you and your fiance had gotten into an argument. In the heat of things, she says, "you know what, I am going to my mothers". She leaves. Is she upset? Yes. Is she in disagreement with you and/or you conduct? Yes. Did she call off the wedding? No, or at least, she did not convey that message to you. Now imagine that instead, she pulled the engagement ring off her finger, threw it at you, chucked you the bird, and stormed out the door. You would probably feel much more concerned about the relationship.
The point I am trying to make is that the action of burning the flag says something. Yes, it says dissent, but it goes further and suggest aggression and severance. As the action of throwing the ring says "deal off", burning the flag says "deal off".
Now one might say that if the flag burners intention was to only severe ties with the U.S., that that does not amount to treason. This may be true except that, as the flying ring symbolizes more than just a need to cool down, the burning of a state's flag symbolizes more than dissent and severance. In fact, the conduct is universally understood as the desire of, or the accomplishment of, the destruction or conquering of a state. The colonist burned the king's flag as we declared our independence. Whenever a fort has been taken, the conquered flag is replaced by the new inhabitants' flag. When we were attacked, extremist muslims and socialist burned our flag in celebration of the success of their brothers. How would one suppose we distinguished between the guy who burns the flag because he wants free health care, and the guy who wants the US to cease to exist.

As a side note, I would like to say that I do not want the Feds to round up any stupid kids for burning flags and charging them with treason. My reason for debating the subject is that because we withhold the right to dissent, we need to exercise it with responsibility. I am not worried about the kid who youtubed himself burning the flag, wanting to or seriously contemplating burning the White House. I am worried about the lack of understanding of the message it sends and the ills that will fall upon a free society that downplays it.
Debate Round No. 1
TheSkeptic

Pro

I thank my opponent for accepting this challenge, and I hope it goes well.

=====Counterarguments=====

"So the free speech clause of the first amendment reiterates that the federal government was granted no authority to abridge the freedom of speech. I believe most of us agree on the importance of this natural right in that it protects dissent and unpopular sentiment."

----> So it's obvious from this statement that my opponent and I agree on what the free speech clause does for citizens. However, he denies the legalization of burning the flag because he claims it is treason. However, labeling flag burning as treason is factually incorrect.

Under the US law, treason is defined as: "consist[ing] only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court."[1] So unless the person who was burning the flag was rallying people to wage war again the American government, THEN it will be treason. And even then, the flag would have nothing to do with it but rather the words spoken. The authors were concerned with defining treason because making a broad definition of it (as the British did), can allow the government to abuse it's definition and carry out actions against dissenters, etc.

1. Analogy of throwing ring

This analogy, and the rest of my opponent's argument, begins to lie on very shaky grounds. This is because he assumes things to be true that are not necessarily so. I will demonstrate with his analogy:

"Now imagine that instead, she pulled the engagement ring off her finger, threw it at you, chucked you the bird, and stormed out the door. You would probably feel much more concerned about the relationship."

----> Yes, but how does this equal treason? True, someone throwing off their engagement ring at their fiancee mostly conveys a much stronger emotion (unless those two have some weirrrddddd ways of communicating). However, this at best is a form of expression - you can't arrest her for throwing her ring at you. And yes, perhaps it does mean she doesn't want to marry. But does this necessarily mean so? NO! Yet, let's go even further and say she does want a marriage either - but this is just dissent. Treason is inciting people to wage war against a government, to attack it with (obviously) forms of violence. Does the act of throwing your ring at your fiancee necessarily mean you want to beat the crap out of him when he's sleeping? NO. My opponent's analogy fails because he confuses the terms "dissent" and "treason".

2. Flag burning isn't dissent, it's treason!

My opponent cites past examples of where burning the flag was done after conquering a nation, defeating it, etc. True, this may be the prevalent tradition of the past - but this does NOT mean it's so now. To say so would be to commit the genetic fallacy[2]. I can use the analogy of the ring. Originally, it symbolized a man claiming "ownership" over a woman in Rome[3]. Over time, traditions change and it's erroneous to rely on the past to say what is thought of in the future.

Secondly, saying that everyone who burns the flag is saying "attack America" is a hasty and presumptuous generalization. How do we know what they truly think? And who CARES what they truly think? As long as they are not gathering people to wage war against America, or they themselves aren't committing acts of violence or espionage, then it should be perfectly legal for people to burn flags. For instance, what if I personally thought America should be invaded and conquered? Can you incriminate me for treason? No, I have to explicitly commit an act of treason such as creating websites for "the destruction of America's infrastructure".

"How would one suppose we distinguished between the guy who burns the flag because he wants free health care, and the guy who wants the US to cease to exist."

----> This is actually a point for my side. How can we tell? We can't! This is why the authors wanted the definition of treason to be specific - otherwise wish washy definitions such as torture (look at Bush) can become manipulated and abused. And as I said before, it doesn't matter what people think but what they DO. Perhaps the man who burns the flag wants the US to cease to exist - but does he show it? Does he go around rallying an guerrilla militia? If he did than THAT would be treason - not burning a flag.

=====Conclusion=====

All forms of expressions should be legal. The only times they can not is if they either explicitly call for treason, or expressing them would cause harms to others (you're form of expression may come at smacking people, which won't be defended). Flag burning is just a tool for expression - it is the people behind the burning who decide what the message is.

---References---
1. http://www.usconstitution.net...
2.http://www.nizkor.org...
3. http://ezinearticles.com...
lordjosh

Con

I would like to address the misunderstandings my opponent has of my first round arguments before addressing his more substantive argument he makes in the first part of the second round.

First, I did not equate the act of tossing a ring/breaking off a marriage with treason. Nor did I confuse "treason" and "dissent". The act of throwing the ring conveys a universal message to everyone who's society embraces the use of the ring as a symbol of love and commitment. Just as burning the flag conveys a universal message to any state which uses a flag as a symbol of the state and a marker of it's territory. I did not say the two particular acts convey the same message.

The second part of his argument is curious but unconvincing. My opponent suggest that even though an act may have had a certain meaning, it does not neccessarily convey the same meaning today or hold the same meaning in the future. I concede to this statement. Let me contend however, that the act in question, the burning of the flag in demonstration, still holds the same symbolism today as it had in the past. The flag is the symbol for the entity it represents. Destroying the symbol in demonstration can only convey the message of the desire to destroy, or the want of destruction of, the entity in which that flag represents.
My opponent has suggested that, true as it may be of the meaning of the act in the past, to continue to hold this truth would amount to a hypothosis called genetic fallacy. This hypothesis is deeply flawed and smacks of National Socialist propaganda, which is why it truly makes no sense and can be easily dismantled. I only hope my young friend listens to his elders before determinig whether or not he knows better. After all, what if; "My parents been telling me that 1+1=2, yet my teacher, Bill, says 1+1=254"? Does the teacher posses more weight because he may be consider the "expert", regardless of the fallacy of his claim?
The ring still represents "ownership" although it may be polliticaly incorrect to say. As Skep will discover when he gets older, he will eventually start looking at the ring finger of the the girls he might like to talk to in order to determine whether she "is TAKEN". Futhurmore he may be put off by the presense of a ring because the subject may have worn one to convey a message that was not true in order to be left alone. She is single, yet her message is that she is taken since it would be impossible for you to know she is actually single.
I have not claimed that "everyone who burns the flag is saying 'attack America'". I am saying that if somone has a message other than the desire to see an end to an entity, then one ought not destroy the recognized symbol of that entity for it does not convey any other message.

The remaining arguments made by my opponent can be juxtaposed with the first argument that I have not yet addressed.

My opponent correctly states the definition of treason as defined in Art. III of the US Constitution.

>>>"consist[ing] only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court"<<<

I aim to prove that burning the American Flag constitutes, by this definition, treason.

"adhering to our Enemies"

The definitions of adhere, revelant to this discussion are: 1: to give support or maintain loyalty. 4: to bind oneself to observance. [1]

To show support may indicate that you give support. An act that is used by our enemies to convey a message that is universally associated with that act would demonstrates support and loyalty to at least the message. Definition 4 is more compelling in my opinion. First the definition of obsevance.

Observance: 1: to conform one's action or practice to. i.e. the rules [1] [2] 3: to celebrate or solomnize (as a ceremony or festival) after a customary or accepted form.[1]

When one burns the flag, they are demonstrating observance to a practiced which is universally known to be the manner in which our enemies demonstrate their desire to see the destruction of the U.S., i.e. adhering to the enemy. The act, in the very least, can give "Aid and Comfort" to our enemies. The use of images of our citizens conveying the same message as they, can be used as a recruitment tool and bolster the moral of our enemies. Although this may be indirect, it does demonstrate the responsibilty we have when exercising our right to dissent.

My opponent claims that "As long as they are not gathering people to wage war against America, or they themselves aren't committing acts of violence or espionage", it does not constitute treason. This is narrower than the definition in the Constitution, but it still does not disqualify flag burning in demonstration.

Violence: 1a: exertion of physical force so as to injure or abuse. b: an instant of violent treatment or procedure. 3b: vehement feeling or expression.[1]

Certainly, it is safe to say that the act "exert[s]..[a]..physical force"(fire)in order to "abuse" the symbol. And the "expression" is certainly vehement.

Finally, I agree with my opponent that "it doesn't matter what people think but what they DO". This is actually my point, Skep. It is not " the people behind the burning who decide what the message is". It is the people who receive the message who must interpret what the message means, and act, based on how they interpret the message. For instance, you see a co-worker standing down the hall. You want this person to come to you. You convey the message by mooning him/her. It should not come to a surprise if the person turns away in disgust. It is illogical to claim that you only wanted the person to approach you when your action promotes an entirely different message.

The burning of the American flag should not be tolerated because the act serves no other purpose than to promote the destruction of the United States; and under the definition of treason, as set forth in the Constitution, and in the court of common sense, the act is encompased.

notes:
[1]Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, copyright 1969
[2]I added as alternitive to (rule)
Debate Round No. 2
TheSkeptic

Pro

I thank my opponent for his substantive arguments - they are far better than the ones I normally encounter.

=====Counterarguments=====

"First, I did not equate the act of tossing a ring/breaking off a marriage with treason."
----> Well then it was somewhat confusing since I misinterpreted what you meant, but no matter.

1. The Analogy of the Ring to Flag Burning

Let's assume that burning the flag is as universal a message as is throwing one's ring off. Even if they both convey a universal message, this doesn't mean that flag burning should be illegal. To make it illegal, we have to first make sure that it is treason - which you have NOT proven. This analogy is impotent until you have proven that burning a flag is treason.

2. Meaning of burning a flag

"Destroying the symbol in demonstration can only convey the message of the desire to destroy, or the want of destruction of, the entity in which that flag represents."
----> Or it can symbolically call for a change of the entity, in this case the United States of America.

3. Genetic fallacy

Your misinterpretation of the genetic fallacy is "what truly makes no sense and can be easily dismantled." The genetic fallacy states that it is a fallacy of irrelevance where a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone's origin rather than its current meaning or context [1]. The original meaning of burning a flag does not necessarily mean it is the same today. Take the marriage ring for example - back then the meaning was MUCH different (slavery, male owning women, etc.). When you bring up examples of historic examples of burning the flag, this doesn't mean anything for the symbolism of burning a flag today. My opponent's analogy to the ring fails, because the universal meaning for a ring means marriage. Burning the flag, nowadays, carries much more diverse meanings. People can burn flag for political, social, or maybe even religious reasons. This is usually a call for change - not universal support for waging war on America.

4. Definition of treason

My opponent's attempt at equating burning a flag and treason is quite comical. He plays a large definition game, and in the end it seems as if he is correct. However, if you simply look at the result it's convoluted and erroneous.

By "adhering to our Enemies", the Constitution means when one helps the enemy. When they go on "their side". If this isn't obvious enough, my opponent goes on to say that committing any act that is against the idea of "America" should be treason because it aligns with the enemy. But this is preposterous - agreeing with the enemies of America does NOT equal treason. To commit treason is to actually SUPPORT or HELP the enemy cause.

To fulfill this prerequisite my opponent attempts to argue that we can "indirectly bolster the moral of our enemies" which would thus constitute helping them thus being treason. The fallacious quality of this argument is astounding. Just because people dissent from America does not mean they are aiding enemies. If this is true, then social progressives, people who want to change laws currently existing in America, and anyone who isn't a conservative for the most part can be considered an enemy. What if a host on TV said America sucks? Should he be tried for treason? Of course not. Again, my opponent's argument relies on the fact that burning a flag is universally meant to be advocating destruction of the entity it represents. Obviously, it does NOT.

My opponent attempts to equate expressing oneself to violence by using the definition "vehement". How is making an expression vehement constitute a violent ACT? Me getting pissed off at someone isn't a violent action - unless I hit them in the face with my fist.

5. Interpretation of burning the flag

True - people can misinterpret what people mean when they burn the flag. But then that's just their ignorance or lack of clarity for both sides then. Even if they totally misinterpret the flag burning, it means nothing for the legality of flag burning. The expression is still valid and should still be free under the freedom of expression.

=====Conclusion=====

Flag burning is protected under the freedom of expression and is not considered treason. This is because it is not a violent act, it does not call for others to wage war against America, and it does not explicitly state support for America's destruction because there is NO universal message for burning the flag (because there are people who legitimately burn it for political reasons, and not for anarchy of America).

---References---
1. http://en.wikipedia.org...
lordjosh

Con

Thank you skep for my first debate on this site. I look forward to more debates with you in the future.

My opponent has proclaimed that I have not proven that flag burnibg amounts to treason. I contend that my opponent could not substantively debunk my claims. Instead he makes statements while offering no support for them. Further, I have given substantive arguements debunking his baseless claims. I may not have proven to everyone that flag burning is treasonous, I have given the better arguement.

My opponent never denies that the symbolic message behind the act, yet he claims other meanings without explaination on how he has come to this conclusion.

"it can symbolically call for a change of the entity, in this case the United States of America."
"When you bring up examples of historic examples of burning the flag, this doesn't mean anything for the symbolism of burning a flag today"
"Burning the flag, nowadays, carries much more diverse meanings. People can burn flag for political, social, or maybe even religious reasons. This is usually a call for change - not universal support for waging war on America."

I have given examples of why and how the symbolism of flag burning represents destroying "the entity that flag represents". My opponent has no fact to back up his statements.

"The genetic fallacy states that it is a fallacy of irrelevance where a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone's origin rather than its current meaning or context ".

Right off the bat, this statement proves foolish. For how could you possibly understand the meaning of anything if you don't understand it's origin. This is Nazi speak for,"Don't listen to your elders and burn anything that might educate someone on the truth". Furthermore, the reference my opponent cites states that;

"a claim that comes from a reliable expert is likely to be true (provided it is in her area of expertise)."

That statement opens the door for a good debate, eh?

And for the "comical" portion of his arguement;

"He plays a large definition game, and in the end it seems as if he is correct. However, if you simply look at the result it's convoluted and erroneous"

After this statement he makes this declaration:

"By "adhering to our Enemies", the Constitution means when one helps the enemy"

Well at least I used a dictionary when I played the "definition game". Again, no support offered for his claim.

"my opponent goes on to say that committing any act that is against the idea of "America" should be treason"

????????? I have no idea.

"To commit treason is to actually SUPPORT or HELP the enemy cause."

Maybe he will offer evidence in the next debate.

"To fulfill this prerequisite my opponent attempts to argue that we can "indirectly bolster the moral of our enemies" which would thus constitute helping them thus being treason"

My statements were; "The act, in the very least, can give "Aid and Comfort" to our enemies.......Although this may be indirect, it does demonstrate the responsibilty we have when exercising our right to dissent."
I guess I will have to explain the main reason this is important. Your observing an, act, ritual, ceremony, festival, prayer,etc.. To 'adhere' is to "bind oneself to observance. see note [1],Con round 2. The burning of the flag is an act, ritual, ceremony, or as my opponent has suggested, a religous, observance.

My opponent makes a telling statement.

"agreeing with the enemies of America does NOT equal treason"

If you agree with our enemies that america should cease to exist, you are a traitor.
Committing an act, observed by our enemies to demonstrate their desires to se us destroyed, is treasonous.

"If this is true, then social progressives, people who want to change laws currently existing in America, and anyone who isn't a conservative for the most part can be considered an enemy. What if a host on TV said America sucks? Should he be tried for treason?"

Again,???????????????

"My opponent attempts to equate expressing oneself to violence by using the definition "vehement". "

This is not true. I equated burning the flag with commiting violence against the US.

My opponent states that if one thinks that an American citizen, burning an American flag, means that that citizen wants to see the US destroyed,"that's just their ignorance or lack of clarity for both sides then. "
No, my friend. Anyone who believes that a citizen who burns the flag does not harbor grave intent towards our union or our place on the world stage is in denial or purposely evading.
Debate Round No. 3
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Posted by thereal_yeti 7 years ago
thereal_yeti
"convey the message of the desire to destroy, or the want of destruction of, the entity in which that flag represents'

Here is the problem I have with this debate. Con is making the assertion that it is against the law to vocalize that you wish harm upon the United States.

WHICH IT ISN'T, only ATTEMPTIMG to actually achieve that is, IE conspiracy.. I could say right now, that I hope that there is another terror attack in america, and that 9-11 was well deserved and I hope all the victims are in hell RIGHT NOW, and I couldn't get into ANY legal trouble for that.

Pro doesn't take him to task on that enough, instead it seems as though he agrees with that premise, but asserts that burning the flag doesn't necassarly mean that!

"Anyone who believes that a citizen who burns the flag does not harbor grave intent towards our union or our place on the world stage is in denial or purposely evading" And I am saying, who cares? That is their RIGHT to wish harm upon the nation... and it my/your right to debate them, and mock them! That is what the free market place of ideas SHOULD look like!
Posted by letsfreeamerica 7 years ago
letsfreeamerica
i will only say this one thing here.

there is no such thing as a "united states". ununited states yes, but not united.
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