The Instigator
Republican95
Pro (for)
Losing
0 Points
The Contender
Brock_Meyer
Con (against)
Winning
27 Points

Flag Burning Should Be Banned

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/25/2009 Category: Politics
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 17,528 times Debate No: 8775
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (5)
Votes (4)

 

Republican95

Pro

Flag Burning-The act of burning a flag in an act of protest (In this case we are talking about the flag of the United States).

We should ban it for the following reasons:

a) Flag burning is a wholly unnecessary means of protest. It does not convey an opinion that a protester could not compose more clearly through the conventional media of the spoken or written word. Flag burning is not speech but an unnecessary and offensive act of vandalism.

b) It is true, law that free speech is not and should not be unlimited. Article 10 of the ECHR expressly acknowledges that freedom of expression can be curtailed in the interests of national security or public safety. Notwithstanding the unqualified language of the First Amendment, the American state legislatures and courts have consistently prohibited various categories of speech, such as bribery, perjury and counseling to murder. Free speech does of course sustain democracy. However, a vague appeal to democracy cannot support flag burning as a means of protest. The American state legislatures that have consistently prohibited flag burning have participated in a democratic process. The citizens of these states have freely expressed their opinions, through the votes of their elected representatives. It is their majority opinion that flag burning should be banned. When a court nevertheless permits the desecration of the flag, it protects the freedom of expression of one individual against the democratic freedom of the vast majority.

c) It is controversial even to regard flag burning as an example of free speech. First, the law cannot label and protect a limitless variety of conduct as ‘speech' whenever the person engaging in the conduct intends thereby to express an idea. Only reckless or accidental acts are not intended by the actor to have a certain effect. Second, from the theories of John Milton and J. S. Mill we have recognised that the purpose of free speech protection is the advancement of knowledge or truth. The US Supreme Court has developed these theories through regularly using the metaphor of the "marketplace of ideas". Free speech allows the value and accuracy of different ideas to be publicly discussed, rejected, accepted or developed. Yet, flag burning does not contribute to any dialogue or exchange of ideas. It is the opposite of calm and rational debate.

d) The national flag is a symbol of nationhood and national unity that ought to be protected from abuse. The flag is a unique symbol that has been cherished by the population since the foundation of the Republic. It represents the turbulent struggle for unity through the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. The protestor burns a flag not in order to damage the material per se but to harm or criticise the ideals that the flag represents. It is not necessary to show that patriotic feeling is in fact damaged by flag burning. It suffices that the act of desecration is designed to offend these ideals. The learned jurist Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes warned that "a page of history is worth a volume of logic". Patriotic principles do deserve and do receive the respect that is manifested in obedience to the flag. Saluting the flag is conventional (though no longer constitutionally compelled) throughout the American school system. The flag is raised and flown on public buildings and at major public events. Citizens express their adherence to the flag through the votes of their elected representatives in state legislatures to pass laws that prohibit flag burning. The law properly protects the principles that are important to its citizens from attack: blasphemy laws protect certain religious beliefs from desecration, slander and libel laws protect personal and group reputations from abuse. Furthermore, even if we assume that flag burning is a valid means of expression, the freedom of expression must be balanced against the important societal interests that are represented by the flag. Given the existence of alternative methods of expression that do not harm these ideals of national unity, the balance is in favor of the prohibition of flag desecration.

e) Fire is dangerous. Your mother told you "don't play with fire", so don't.

Thank you whoever accepts this debate.
Brock_Meyer

Con

I thank my opponent for what ought to be a stimulating discussion.

The resolution is that the practice of burning flags in protest ought to be illegal. I shall address my opponent's position primarily before moving to establish my own line of reasoning against the resolution.

My opponent's first contention (a) is arguably his weakest. The proposition that the act of burning the flag is not necessary because the same ideas can be communicated through other means discounts the fact that the concept of "freedom of speech" encompasses the medium on which you communicate. Murray Rothbard has proposed that the human right, say, to free speech is a property right; that is, the most relevant question related to free speech is "Where?" A person does not have the right to yell out his beliefs while trespassing, just as a person does not have the right to burn another person's flag[1]. Burning your own flag is an extremely poignant showing of opposition: an image that cannot be conveyed in words on a page. It is simply nonsense to suggest that, when the protestor's anti-patriotic sentiments are so strong, burning a flag is unnecessary; or that the government has the right to decide what modes of protest are unnecessary and what are not, especially when the government may be the target of that protest.

Contention (b) is nothing more than a junkheap of jumbled claims. First of all, legitimate restrictions on free speech in particular contexts such as perjury and counseling to murder (there is no real law against bribery[2]) cannot be compared to the usage of flag as an instrument of protest. The goals of perjury and counseling to murder are to deceive, to undermine, and to curtail the rights of others. The burning of a flag is a form of protest that in no way conflicts with the rights of other citizens, and, as a form of protest, is not design by itself to deceive, to undermine, or to curtail the efforts of others pursuing justice. "Victimless crime" is an oxymoron: if there is no victim, there are no rights to be infringed upon. Burning the flag is a victimless crime and therefore not a crime at all[3].

Additionally, just because citizens may "express their opinions through the votes" does not mean that this means of expression is all that these citizens are entitled to. On one hand, my opponent is saying that the freedom of speech ought not to be limited; but on the other hand, saying that expressing opinion through elections of representatives is necessary and sufficient to the goals of the First Amendment. A definite contradiction may be due to either my misunderstanding or my opponent's misuse of logic.

In addition, my opponent's arguments do not follow from their premises. Nowhere is there any proof of how individual freedoms contradict the democratic freedoms of individuals. Just because a state legislature has decided to prohibit flag burning, and whether or not the public has approved of these politicians for that decision, is irrelevant to the issue of whether flag burning ought to be prohibited, which is the subject of the resolution. These state legislatures could very well have voted to allow flag burning, and my opponent's arguments would be invalid.

Contention (c) deals with whether this is even a matter of free speech. This is despite the obviousness that it is a matter of free speech. Firstly, we cannot honestly say that the First Amendment is based on the theories of John Stewart Mill any more than it is on the theories of Rousseau or Locke. Secondly, it is a fallacy to move from "flag burning is irrational" to "flag burning does not contribute to the exchange of ideas". Many philosophers and neuroscientists believe that emotions have a cognitive structure; that is, they are based on ideas that we have prior to expressing these emotions[4]. Thus, emotions like bitterness and resentment (perhaps of one's government) are based on confused ideas, such as rejection and rebellion. However, these are ideas nevertheless, and deserve to be marketed to the "marketplace of ideas". Indeed, if the First Amendment is indeed intended to guarantee a "marketplace of ideas" then, in my opinion, there is no better way of expressing an idea about the United States than burning its flag.

Thirdly, the burning of the flag is a means of protest that expresses an idea. Burning a flag has symbolic significance, which the U.S. Supreme Court, in United States v. O'Brien in 1968, ruled that protestors have the right, under the First Amendment to engage in[5]. The case dealt with a man who burnt a draft certificate as a form of protest (or, by the court's words, "symbolic conduct"). Clearly, the national flag and a draft certificate are within the same category of physical objects: state-recognized symbols.

Contention (d) deals with the worst kind of tyranny: the tyranny of ideas. Instead of seeing reality as it is, my opponent chooses to ignore the fact that a flag is nothing but a multicolored fabric. Just because to other people, past and present, this fabric may represent some sense of history, this does not justify limiting one's perception of a flag to something which must be venerated and respected. By forcing these values onto other people, my opponent expects to tell them how to use their personal property (i.e. their flags). Fortunately, in the United States, individuals are not obligated to respect the values of other individuals (even if they are obligated to respect their property). That means I could hypothetically destroy the Mona Lisa had I decided to buy it, despite others placing such a high value on its history. "Patriotic principles" do not automatically reserve respect, because they, like all principles, have to work for individuals in order to gain their respect. We cannot expect people to value patriotism unless they are willing to sacrifice themselves for the public interest. Some decide that they would rather not, and therefore do not either (a) hold the value of patriotism that highly or (b) respect those who do.

It comes as nothing but a crass contradiction to the principles of the Founding Fathers, men who had a great respect for property rights, to say that our country should not allow private citizens to burn their private property, even when that private property has a cheap, mass-produced resemblance to something they carried into battles. Burning a flag, however, does not fall into the category of slander or libel because, like perjury, it is not intended to deceive its audience. It is an expression of ideas and freedoms, not a negation of others' rights and freedoms. Moreover, it is not malicious to any specific individuals. Lastly, "important societal interests" do not negate property rights of individuals; that is the definition of "inalienable" when referring to the natural right of property in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. The value of an American flag probably made in China or Mexico hardly justifies the violation of these rights. Moreover, there is no evidence given to support that the burning of an American flag, in any way, undermines "national unity".

Nevertheless, my opponent is right with contention (e). I will grant him that one. My sources are in the Comments section in the interest of saving space.

Q.E.D.
Debate Round No. 1
Republican95

Pro

My opponent would like you to believe that you can burn a flag because it is an element of freedom of expression.

He goes on to say that flag burning is a "victimless crime". However, this a perfect thing that can be deconstructed with an analogy. A man decides to walk around nude in a public arena to protest the use of animal skins/furs in the clothing. He is making a political statement. He is not harming anybody (physically). Nevertheless, his actions are deemed "illegal" because they are obscene and gross. Similarly, flag burning is both offensive and not a very good way of communicating ideas. 'Freedom of Speech' or 'Freedom of Expression' is not an infinite thing, it has limitations. And in my opinion, these limitations should be extended to flag burning.

My opponent believes that flag burning is a very effective way to communicate ideas.

So, if I decide to stand on a street corner, hold us the stars n' stripes, strike a match, and watch our flag burn, I would somehow communicate some kind of intelligent thought. My opponent says that I can express resentment toward my country. But, I am doing nothing to detail what that resentment is and how I think we should go about changing whatever resentment I have. Flag burning, of itself, conveys no thought that couldn't be better conveyed by language.

My opponent believes that burning a flag is not vandalism.

This is what vandalism is: Defacing something that is not yours. For example taking a spray paint bottle and spraying some type of statement, even a political statement, is not protected under the 1st Amendment because you are defacing something that isn't yours. You may go to Wal-Mart and buy a flag, but is that flag yous? In a legal sense, since ownership is 90% of the law, yes, that flag is "yours". But in a moral sense is that flag yours. No, a flag cannot belong to any one person. A flag is symbolic of a country and its people. Therefore, the flag doesn't belong to any one person, but rather it is a symbol of unity. Since the flag isn't "yours", you have no right to burn it.

My opponent believes that a flag is nothing more than cloth and dye.

Calling the flag cloth is dye is like calling the Bible (or the Constitution, since I know your an atheist) nothing more than ink and paper. However, the ideals expressed by the Bible or the Constitution run a lot deeper than ink and paper. They represent ideals that we hold, what we've been through, and what is going to guide us as we head forward. It runs a lot deeper than that. To burn a flag is to deface this countries ideals, history, and citizens. Why shouldn't I be offended? Why, this "flag-burner" has just put everything I believe to flame. A flag is more than cloth and dye.

I would like to remind my opponent he hasn't established his own case.

I look forward to rebuttals.
Brock_Meyer

Con

Thanks to my opponent for the quick response.

By equating the alleged obscenity of a nude body with the use of flag burning in protests, I am assuming you mean to say that flag burning, in itself is obscene. With that said, I do not like your analogy because a naked body is not obscene and, in a vast majority of cases, is not gross by any reasonable standard. I personally think that peanut butter is obscene and gross, and yet there are no laws banning the sale of peanut butter. Whenever one speaks in terms of obscenity, the premises are bound to be overly subjective, and it makes no sense to base policy on the subjective whims of individuals. Unfortunately, the subjective whims of most people are that naked bodies are obscene, and thus laws prohibit nakedness. However, this contributes nothing to the question of whether it should be illegal.

In some parts of the Middle East, women are banned from showing their faces. While we condemn this in America, it is based on the same reasoning as the reasoning we use to ban nudity. The same is true of burning flags. Although a majority of people in a community erroneously thinks a human body is obscene, that is still a matter of your opinion. Offending others does not violate their rights.

Once again, I dispute your claim that burning a flag is "not a very good way of communicating ideas". I think it is a supremely good way of communicating your resentment. What shows your displeasure with a country more than burning the national symbol of that institution? Certainly, there are situations in which burning the flag is most appropriate.

Secondly, my opponent claims that burning a flag communicates no intelligent thought. In response, I question the relevance of this claim to the resolution. Is the purpose of the ban on flag burning designed to encourage intelligent thought, or to "encourage" us to develop more effective or intelligent means of protest?

Thirdly, my opponent claims that a flag is not "morally" (perhaps "symbolically" is a better word?) yours, and therefore burning one is "vandalism". First, there is the problem of what object is ontologically an American flag. For instance, I could take a piece of paper and draw an American flag on it. Am I allowed to burn this piece of paper? What about if I erase one of the stars? Am I allowed to burn it then? There is also the absurdity of collective, "symbolic" ownership of one's private property. My opponent claims that even though I buy an American flag made in China at Wal-Mart, the collective actually owns that flag. My property rights on this cloth aside, they have the right to decide how I use this piece of property. Interesting...

Look at this reasoning in terms of professional sports. Apparently, the Pittsburgh Steelers are the most popular team in all professional sports. Nevertheless, it is legal for me to purchase a Troy Polamalu jersey (#43), go into my yard, and burn it in effigy. What is the difference between burning a flag and burning a jersey? Certainly, the Steelers have many fans, and doing this would upset almost all of them. Once again, it is a matter of subjectivity. Burning the jersey is obscene to some, and not obscene to others: not because the jersey has some intrinsic moral value, but because people like the Steelers. Most Americans like the United States; some others (like me) do not. In addition, it is actually laughable how my opponent has put "yours" in quotation marks while talking about personal property.

Fourthly, thanks to my opponent for acknowledging my lack of belief in God (although I would not choose the Constitution either because I am a libertarian-anarchist; so let's just say... Metaphysics by Aristotle). I recognize the value of Aristotle's Metaphysics in the history of philosophy. I have a Collected Works, two volumes, of Aristotle on my bookshelf right now. What keeps me from burning the book? Besides the fact I know that I will need it for reference at some point in the future, it is that I respect Aristotle's words and his ideas. However, not all people like Aristotle, such as contemporary Islamists in the Middle East because he is an infidel philosopher. These people burn Aristotle's Metaphysics despite the impact his ideas had on Islamic civilization. I find it unfortunate. But this book does not belong to Western civilization, as you claim the flag belongs to the people who value what the flag represents. As long as those who burn the book own the book (which is frequently not the case in book burnings by religious fanatics), I see nothing wrong with casting it to the fire. In fact, David Hume told us to cast metaphysics into the fire, but that is beside the point.

Lastly, I thank my opponent for reminding me that I have not yet made my case yet. While my case primarily consists of the fact that my opponent (the instigator) doesn't have one, my argument against the resolution is based in the irony of celebrating our freedoms (what the flag represents) by passing more laws that restrict our freedoms (burning the flag). Not only is banning the act of burning flags in protest a grievous violation of the First Amendment, which protects all speech and acts, even if some might consider them obscene, but also shows a disrespect (as my opponent has shown) for individual property rights. Considering that the United States was founded on the principle of an inalienable right to property, it seems, at best, hypocritical and at worst, disingenuous to think that burning your personal property is not a right.

I agree that the flag has symbolic significance to some people. However, this significance can range from extreme patriotism to extreme hate. While a redneck veteran in Mississippi might venerate the flag, a coffee-drinking liberal in Massachusetts might despise the flag as a symbol for imperialism, capitalism, and exploitation. Is it then wrong for this person to buy a flag and burn it to express his angers with the government? It seems the redneck and the liberal, if they both own their flags, have as much right as the other to do with it what they wish. But the symbolism of fire is also significant. Societies past and present decline and fall. Their cities might be burned down and governments changed. Fire represents destruction in the present moment, but it also represents regrowth after the destruction: that is, the possibility of a better future.

A flag may be more than cloth and dye (to some people), but that in itself does not give these people the right to tell another what to do with an object that is rightfully his own.

Q.E.D.
Debate Round No. 2
Republican95

Pro

My opponent believes that obscenity and grossness are completely subjective.

They are not completely subjective only somewhat subjective. Our society has defined what we find permissible and what we do not. Anything can be considered subjective. MURDER can be considered subjective. But you can't murder somebody. Can you? Not under the law you can't. And still, no one is forcing you to eat peanut butter, that is your choice. But, in the case of flag burning, we all collectively as a society have to deal with the damage it does to our spirit.

My opponent believes you can "own" the flag.

A similar analogy would be to own the U.S. Capitol Building. Even if you had the deed to the U.S. Capitol Building, it would be really stupid of you to burn it. The Capitol Building, like the flag, is symbolic of our nation and its history, and therefore cannot be claimed by any single person.

My opponent equates the American flag to a Pittsburgh Steelers flag.

A flag of a nation carries a lot more weight than a flag of a sports team. A flag is suppose to be a symbol of unity amongst a nation's citizens, a flag of the Pittsburgh Steelers is just a way of endorsing a team. The flag carries a lot more weight.

My opponent compares the flag to Aristotle's Metaphysics.

*See above comparison to Pittsburgh Steelers*

===Closing===

Burning a flag would be to burn your right to burn a flag. The United States government gave the "right" to burn flags. So, therefore, burning a flag would actually destroy your right to burn a flag (symbolically). There are things our society deems too *wrong* to do. Murder and theft are examples of those. Why do we illegalize murder and theft. Because the collective says its wrong. We don't let the "rights" of the murder or the thief encroach on the rights of the victims and the need for justice, so why should be with flag burning? Flag burning is just a horrible way of communicating ideas, obscene, and quite frankly stupid. Flags represent unity, the destroy this symbol of unity is gross. Vote PRO.
Brock_Meyer

Con

My opponent believes that standards of obscenity are defined by society and that laws should reflect these standards. However, I still fail to see how and when such standards are collectively established. I can see how laws against murder are not subjective (because they violate the victim's right to life), but the ending of a life is an objective phenomenon. The entering of light into one's eyes, and the representation of that image in one's brain, along with the individual's interpretation of that image, is a completely subjective phenomenon. Although no one is forcing me to eat peanut butter, no one is telling me that I cannot eat peanut butter. Why? Because the benefits or harms of eating peanut butter are a matter of my subjective experience. The situation is no different with burning a flag. My opponent, on this point, has presented no evidence to support the claim that flag burning hurts or in some way damages the "spirit" of a society. Children are not damaged psychologically, nor are adults. The act itself does not harm anyone and thus is not a crime.

My opponent believes that a flag is equivalent to the U.S. Capitol building, and he is right that, if I owned the deed to that building, I would not burn it down. However, I would not arson the building because it is worth more to me standing than in ashes. The act of burning a flag, on the other hand, may be worth more to some person because of its symbolic value than the actual flag blowing in the wind. My only question is, that if any single person cannot claim a flag, why are they mass-produced and sold by private organizations in places like Wal-Mart right next to the dog food and baby toys?

My opponent believes a flag is different from a jersey. However, just because something "carries a lot more weight" (which is another way of saying that "more people attach value to that thing") does not make the object a different kind of thing. A flag and a jersey are still cloth representations of an idea: not the idea themselves. Burning a representation states, in a dramatic fashion, one's opposition to the idea. Hopefully the United States will allow the freedom to express ideas in the future.

As to the claim that the government "gives" me the right to burn flags, I suggest that my opponent look into what the function of the United States government is. According to Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, governments are instituted among men to protect the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Governments do not exist to give people rights, but to protect rights that already exist. Additionally, murder and theft are not wrong because our society has arbitrarily decided that they are wrong. They are illegal because they violate these natural rights to life and property that John Locke and the Founding Fathers spoke about. If anything, the natural right to property guarantees the protection of one's right to burn personal property (i.e. the flag).

In the end, opponent has done nothing but propose that burning a flag, in his opinion, "is gross". There is no substance behind his "arguments". Vote CON.
Debate Round No. 3
5 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Posted by ilovgoogle 7 years ago
ilovgoogle
The only valid point pro made was on public nudity, otherwise Con dominated.
Posted by ilovgoogle 7 years ago
ilovgoogle
Hello? Brock you missed Texas V Johnson!
Posted by Brock_Meyer 7 years ago
Brock_Meyer
To MTGandP, there's no point in turning this into a theoretical discussion. It's not the job of the government to legislate or even respect a code of morality, given your intention of claiming that it is immoral to ban flag burning.
Posted by MTGandP 7 years ago
MTGandP
I will accept this if we make it a purely theoretical argument. I can't argue against your point that people voted to ban flag burning, but I can argue that it is immoral to ban flag burning.
4 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Vote Placed by ilovgoogle 7 years ago
ilovgoogle
Republican95Brock_MeyerTied
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Vote Placed by atheistman 7 years ago
atheistman
Republican95Brock_MeyerTied
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bonobos
Republican95Brock_MeyerTied
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Vote Placed by Brock_Meyer 7 years ago
Brock_Meyer
Republican95Brock_MeyerTied
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