Blog #201  SECULAR ICONS (Editorial Comment)

There is a vital and salutary benefit, enjoyable most especially by a nation singularly composed of citizens of various cultural origin (“E pluribus Unum”), to an instrument of unifying identification. This functional service is accomplished by means of common traditional symbols, such as our flag and national anthem; a far preferable alternative to ethnic or cultural feelings of insularity and divisiveness. Such shared trademarks afford to all citizens, the comforting recognition of acceptance and social commonality.

Our contemporary American flag, containing fifty stars, representative of the fifty states, and thirteen stripes, symbolizing the thirteen British colonies which declared their independence from England, has a long historic tradition (Betsy Ross), but, as updated, is credited to the design ingenuity of a seventeen- year old Ohio high school student in a 1950’s school project to include Alaska and Hawaii.

Our celebrated national anthem (“The Star- Spangled Banner”) derives from a poem, written during the War of 1812, by a captured American soldier, a military prisoner aboard a British Warship, who joyfully observed the survival of Ft. Henry (and its flag) following a formidable bombardment by British cannons. The music to such word(soon lyrics) were written by John Stafford Smith, in 1931 (only 86 years ago).

It was interesting to learn that that the protocol applicable to the flag is prescribed in a Federal Statute, (36 U.S.C. sec. 301); however, it is to be especially noted that the Statute expressly provides that its regulations are suggestive and not regulatory; so that failure to abide by the legislated procedures is not, in any way, a violation of law.

Despite commonly manifested feelings of intense outrage, a long and consistent string of judicial precedent has ruled that overt acts of desecration, such as flag burning, or disrespect for the national anthem, amount to Constitutionally protected free speech and are by consequence, legal. The founders of our nation foresaw the expression of differences of opinion and debate among the citizenry as useful and a healthy and rational route to good governance for our democratic republic.

Still, there are many ardent Americans who wrap themselves in the flag and religiously revere the national anthem, unmindful of the essential meaning of our American symbols, and who worship them in the same fashion as religious adherents would worship religious icons. These are the people who are outraged by the recent scenes of NFL football players “taking a knee” at the rendition of the national anthem. Such zealous Americans see objectionable sacrilege in such behavior, rather than, as has been explained, in this instance, the expression of objection to the wrongful and un-American treatment of people of color by the justice system. Such super- patriotic critics can only construe such acts as national heresy, rather than an editorial expression of discontent, regarding unjust behaviors apparently prevalent in our nation. Those who are unable to recognize this American form of symbolic of dissent, act as if loyal Americans died to preserve the religious sanctity of the anthem (although we can foresee the empirical possibility of someone suffering a fatality trying to sing it).

We are, unhappily, obliged to conclude that such demonstrated outrage has its etiology in some paranoid symptom of xenophobia, a pathology dealt with in Blog # 197 (“War is Curable”). Our national symbols proudly declare a great, admirable and secure nation, confidently respectful of the existence of dissent (as well as its historically demonstrated beneficiary).




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Retired from the practice of law'; former Editor in Chief of Law Review; Phi Beta Kappa; Poet. Essayist Literature Student and enthusiast.

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