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Posts tagged Theo-nationalism

Punch a hippie in the face for Freedom


See if you can spot the Freedom in this photograph.

There are no enforceable laws against flag desecration in the United States. There have been no such laws for over twenty five years. But bring up flag burning and a lot of American nationalists — especially, it seems, political conservatives — will get pretty heated about their right to beat people up who express Patriotically Incorrect political views, or to beat people up just for being a dirty hippie. This kind of appeal to crude instinctual violence only goes so far however, so if the conversation goes on, many of them (more, it seems, in the last few years) will come around to make a claim that it is actually illegal to burn a U.S. flag, and that people can be arrested for doing it. They are completely mistaken about that claim. But it’s interesting, and a bit scary, that they are so pervasively and repetitively and insistently mistaken.

Let’s set aside for the moment the question of whether or not there’s anything wrong with burning a U.S. flag in protest. And let’s set aside for the moment whether or not there’d be anything wrong with burning a U.S. flag in protest if it were illegal. We’ll come back to that later, but it’s a separate question.

Those who claim that burning an American flag is illegal rarely cite a source for this claim. If they do, they will normally point to something like 18 USC 700, on Desecration of the flag of the United States.[1] What they don’t seem to have noticed is that 18 USC 700 has no legal force. It hasn’t had any legal force for two and a half decades. It’s still printed in copies of the U.S. code, but both that law, and any law substantially like it, were struck down as violations of free speech rights a quarter century ago in Texas v. Johnson and United States v. Eichman. This is not a new development. It’s been the case for decades.

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In 1989, Congress passed the Flag Protection Act which made it a crime to destroy an American flag or any likeness of an American flag which may be “commonly displayed.” The law did, however, allow proper disposal of a worn or soiled flag. Several prosecutions resulted from the Act. Eichman set a flag ablaze on the steps of the U.S. Capitol while protesting the government’s domestic and foreign policy. Another prosecution (United States v. Haggerty) resulted from a flag-burning in Seattle protesting the passage of the Flag Protection Act.Both cases (Eichman’s and Haggerty’s) were argued together.


The claim that flag-burning is illegal or punishable by law is pure nationalist political mythology. There is no enforceable law against flag desecration in the United States. If you claim that there is, you’ve been misinformed, and you are spreading misinformation.

Now, of course, even if there were an enforceable law against desecrating or burning a flag, your own property, whenever you see fit to do so, that law would be a petty tyranny, an obvious and stupid invasion of people’s basic rights to freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. Using force to censor and curtail basic freedom of speech and basic property rights is wrong, and fundamentally unjust, no matter what the law says.

If it were illegal to burn flags, then every one of us would have a perfect right to burn flags in defiance of the law, as an act of civil disobedience against unjust restrictions on free speech. Laws that elevate the symbolism of a piece of cloth over the rights of living people to the integrity of their own minds, their own bodies, and their own property, — laws that propose censorship and punitive force against those whose peaceful protests offend the delicate sensibilities of Patriotic Correctness — deserve nothing but contempt and defiance, whenever and wherever they exist.

But of course they don’t even exist in this case. They’re pure mythology. But myths are created and repeated because they serves a political and cultural function. There’s something worth noting in the fact that so many of the self-appointed Home Guard have a manifest felt need, that they so badly want to believe in a government that can and will use violence to punish offenses against the dignity of their national flag, even in spite of what they could have found out with two minutes’ research on the Internet. This kind of violent Patriotic Correctness is, of course, nothing more than bullying and violent censorship. A form of bullying and violent censorship where many of the bullies and the censors so desperately feel the need for government support that they will conjure non-existent laws to back up their burning desire to punch a hippie in the face. The saddest thing of all is that they will tell you that they do this because the flag means so very much, and it means so very much because it stands for freedom. That should tell you something about the kind of American Nation, and the kind of freedom, that they are so exercised to protect against the scourge of peaceful protest and free speech.

My own view of course is that sedition and open disrespect for the government are American traditions, and they deserve to be honored.

Happy Revolution Day weekend.

So perish all compromises with tyranny! And let all the people say, Amen!William Lloyd Garrison


  1. [1]Occasionally they will point to the Federal Flag Code (4 U.S.C Ch. 1 § 5 and following) instead. But the Flag Code is explicitly purely advisory; if you read it, you’ll find that it never claims to be anything more than a list of etiquette and customs that the government specifies as guidance for such civilians or civilian groups or organizations as may not be required to conform with regulations promulgated by one or more executive departments of the Government of the United States. It has no legally binding force for anyone who isn’t in the employment of the United States government. You don’t commit any crime by disregarding it and there are no penalties for violating it.

On missing the point

Here’s an idle question, recently posed on LewRockwell.com: Is Secession Anti-American?

Here’s an idle question, recently posed by me: the fuck do you care?

If your plan is to secede from the United States of America, then, seriously, why are you saying anti-American like it’s a bad thing?

The first question is an idle question because there is no point debating whether you are being loyal or disloyal to a political entity that you are supposedly trying to get out from under and get the fuck away from.

The second question is an idle question because I’m pretty sure I already know the answer. However, in spite of being idle, the question is worth asking, because if the answer is made explicit, that may be enough to show how stupid it really is.

See also:

Bow down before the one you serve

(Via Lew Rockwell 2008-05-09: Young Heretics vs. the Flag Religion.)

I spent my first few years of school in a Montessori co-op school with a large contingent of aging New Leftists and burned-out hippie types among the parents. But after that it was all government schools, and, as far as I can remember, every government school I ever attended started business each day with the Pledge of Allegiance. I started having problems with the Pledge around the time I got to junior high school; I didn’t like being expected to chant out one nation, under God, and I figured it violated my religious liberty, so I stopped saying that. In high school I refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance at all, and I usually wouldn’t stand up, either, unless I felt like someone in the room was eyeing me. It’s not that I was trying to make some kind of anarchist protest; I was a fairly boring sort of Democratic Party-identified state Leftist for most of the time I was in high school, and didn’t become an anarchist until after I spent a couple years kicking around more radical forms of Leftism in college. But even then I considered the whole ritual Strength-Through-Unity exercise stifling and creepy, and I didn’t want to participate. So I feel a lot of personal, not just political, solidarity for these three teenagers in western Minnesota:

Three small-town eighth-graders were suspended for not standing at the start of the school day Thursday for the Pledge of Allegiance.

My son wasn’t being defiant against America, said Kim Dahl, mother of one of the students, Brandt, who attends Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Junior High School in western Minnesota. She said her son offered no reason for sitting.

Brandt told the Fargo Forum that Thursday’s one-day in-school suspension, was kind of dumb because I didn’t do anything wrong. It should be the people’s choice.

Kim Dahl said the punishment didn’t fit the crime. If they wanted to know why he didn’t stand, they should’ve made him write a paper.

— Paul Walsh, Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribue (2008-05-09): Principal who punished 3 who sat pledge foresees policy rewording

I understand the desire to try to protect your son from abuse in a case that’s sure to draw the howling attention of the Patriotic Correctness bellowing blowhard bully brigade. But, in all honesty, what would it matter if he were being defiant against America? Everyone’s got the right their convictions and nobody should be forced to participate in theo-nationalist rituals that violate their conscience. I also understand the desire to try to get a lighter punishment for your kid when the school is so clearly throwing its weight around in an attempt to bully and intimidate through a heavy punishment. But, in all honesty, what possible justification could there be for forcing this kid to take on extra academic work or to explain himself any further than he cares to do so freely?

She said that Brandt has not been standing all year, and all of a sudden it became an in-school suspension.

The district today is defending the punishments. The school’s handbook says all students are required to stand but are not obligated to recite the pledge. The same is true for all four schools in the district, a school official said.

These three [students] didn’t, and they got caught, said Mel Olson, the district’s community education director. He said he backs the punishment, being a veteran and a United States of America citizen, absolutely. Olson served in the Marines in Japan during the Vietnam War.

— Paul Walsh, Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribue (2008-05-09): Principal who punished 3 who sat pledge foresees policy rewording

Another thin-skinned Veteran Against Individual Freedom, I guess, who has nothing better to do with his time than rant and cry about how nobody gives the military and its obsessive flag protocol the respect they allegedly deserve.

One of the things that makes me happy to see is that there is vigorous debate in the comments section on this story, with many posts from people who condemn the school’s actions (and the very idea of forcing children to recite a pledge of loyalty to the federal government on a daily basis), with reasonable argument and also, at times, with the ridicule and withering sarcasm that this asinine school administration deserves. The only thing there that’s irritating is the number of people who feel compelled to say things like, Oh, I think that everybody ought to jump up and shout Sir, yes Sir! when it comes time to say the Pledge, but I’m not sure that it’s really right to force people…. Whatever your personal views about flag protocol may be, this is an argument that can and should be made without doffing your hat to Patriotic Correctness.

As for the commenters who have posted in defense of the school’s actions, they’ve offered three different sorts of arguments, each one of which is beneath contempt. In order of increasing outrageousness, here are some examples of each.

First, there’s the standard Patriotic Correctness argument, along with several direct invocations of love it or leave it, some bizarre non sequiturs about caring about the Constitution (which is nowhere mentioned in the Pledge of Allegiance, has nothing to say about the Pledge or about flag protocol, and seems to mean absolutely nothing in the mouths of the people citing it except as a synecdoche for the authority of the United States federal government), and the usual long litany of demands for unearned respect in return for unasked-for services. The idea here is that the kids ought to be punished for daring to hold, or at least to express, anything other than glassy-eyed unquestioning loyalty to the federal government of the United States of America:

Out of respect for our country..

Its really not that hard to stand up and show some respect- not merely for the flag, but for the values that the flag represents: liberty, justice, and truth. Yes, this is a free country, but that also means that these families are free to leave if they cannot respect our nation.

olin157 @ 9 May 2008, 10:07 AM


Snot Nosed Brats

These snot nosed brats should not only stand but they should gladly participate in the pledge. At a minimum they should obey the rules of the school which means get off you rear and stand. You don’t have to harm your little sensibilities by actually pledging allegiance to the only country you have, just stand up for goodness sake. The school was right, ACLU and these punks are legally wrong.

seanintucson @ 9 May 2008, 12:21 PM

Not to mention:

Idol Worship?

Are you people serious? It has nothing to do with the sort. You are not idolizing anything by standing up during the pledge. Hey, you don’t have to say it, the all powerful Supreme Court has brought that commandment down, if you will. Have we forgotten so soon what the Standard represents? Have you Baby-Boomers forgotten your parents who fought to raise that same flag during WWII? How about the current generation, your grandparents fought for it in WWII or Korea, parents in Vietnam and your friends now in Iraq and Afghanistan. I AM a current soldier, not retired, and HAVE served two tours in Baghdad. I truly believe you have the right to free speech, which is why you can go ahead and not say the pledge, but for the sake of my brethren who have fallen and those in the past who have died, show THEM the respect they deserve. Parents, you need to be teaching that this country isn’t about the government, but the people, and the people who formed it. This country’s freedom has, and is, constantly being paid for with the lives of its fighting men and women. While you may have the luxury of sitting back and saying its a free speech thing, just remember who gave you that same free speech.

SGT_M on May. 9, 08 at 12:26 PM

I should pause to note that my father was indeed in the Army in Vietnam, and my father’s father was in the Army in Korea. The claim that either my father, or my father’s father, fought for free speech, or this country’s freedom, is absurd. Neither the North Korean government nor the North Vietnamese government, let alone the occupied countries of South Korea and South Vietnam, ever posed any threat to free speech or freedom in the United States of America. They did nothing in the Army to give me free speech because freedom of speech in the U.S. was not at risk in the first place.

The claim that either my father or my grandfather fought to raise a damned flag on the other side of the world is also absurd. The reason that my father and his father were in the Army is because the federal government sent each of them a letter announcing that if he did not join the Army, he would be arrested and thrown in prison. I’ll be damned if I sit around and listen to some sanctimonious volunteer soldier talk about how the United States Army, which conscripted both my father and my grandfather against their will, deserves my respect and gratitude for guarding individual freedom during the wars on Korea and Vietnam

As for the statement Parents, you need to be teaching that this country isn’t about the government, but the people, and the people who formed it, I’m inclined to agree, but I think the upshot is not quite what SGT_M takes the upshot to be. And I certainly don’t know what any of it has to do with standing during the Pledge of Allegiance. The Pledge of Allegiance is not about the country, much less about the people; it’s about loyalty to *the government*, and it says so right at the beginning:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.

And to the republic, for which it stands.


For the second argument, there’s the These snot-nosed punks got no respect line. This is, honestly, even worse than the belligerent appeals to American theo-nationalism, because, as disgusting as the latter is, the former involves singling out harmless kids for sneering speculation on their motivations and character. And also because they are is no longer attacking a difference of view and an exercise of liberty because they think something more important (love of the government and its symbols, or whatever) overrides it, but rather attacking difference and liberty just as such, because these teenagers are acting like free human beings instead of doing as they’re told by the wise and powerful authorities. Thus:


Even if you do not like the Pledge of Allegiance for what ever reason. You should respect others who care and stand! The lack of respect is the main part of our trouble in this rough times.

hussman02 @ 9 May 2008 10:05AM


If it’s a school rule and he doesn’t have an answer as to why he didn’t stand – then he clearly is just being obstinate. I can’t believe a parent would support their kid in this situation!!!

Cartert1 @ 9 May 2008, 9:55 AM


$10 says these are pain-in-the-rear kids with pain-in-the-rear parents that hover around their kids and never make any acknowledgment that their kids could ever do anything wrong. If these kids were formally and legitimately protesting the United States they should not have been punished, but the tenor of the article suggests they are just smart asses and that they did not have any political/personal convictions when they sat out the pledge.

pipress1487 @ 9 May 2008, 10:23 AM

I don’t think that Brandt Dahl’s statement that I didn’t do anything wrong. It should be the people’s choice. suggests they are just smart asses without any political/personal convictions. But suppose this were true. Then so what? Freedom of speech and expression don’t depend on you having something to say that fits some highly stylized model of formal and legitimate protest. The chief value of freedom of association just is being able to be a lazy smart-ass and live your ordinary life as you see fit, rather than spending your time protesting and fighting an overbearing, invasive government. While the right to speak out against injustices is vitally important, what’s even more important, and in fact what makes the right to speak out against injustices as vitally important as it is, is the right to just be left the hell alone and not be subjected to the officious demands of busybodies and blowhards on your time and energy.

If these kids are just trying to be pains in the ass over a ritual that they find stupid and tiresome, I support them and salute them. I can think of no better reason to refuse to participate.

The third, and worst, of the arguments seems (surprisingly, for me, anyway) to be the most common: the idea that even if the school policy is unjustified, and even if schools oughtn’t force students to stand, and even if the kids have got a legitimate beef with the school board, it does not matter, because they broke The Rules, and you got to punish anybody who steps out of line, even if they had a perfectly good reason to object. Now it’s no longer a matter of attacking them for having the wrong beliefs about public political devotion, and no longer a matter of attacking them for being thoughtless or not following orders that the authorities had good reason to hand down. It’s a matter of attacking them for not subordinating their own considered judgment and obeying orders which are admittedly arbitrary and perhaps even wrong in themselves. (If you have some free time and a high tolerance for pain, feel free to count the number of times that people repeat, verbatim, the phrase rules are rules.)


he wasn’t protesting.

he didn’t have a reason why he didn’t stand, he just didn’t want to! what happens when mom and dad have house rules that he doesn’t want to follow? should they force him to follow their rules? life is full of rules that different people think are pointless, it just depends on whose ox is being gored. so now he’s learning that he doesn’t really need reasons for his actions, just whether he wants to do it or not. and we wonder why our youth have become so complacent today!

K_Zemlicka @ 9 May 2008, 10:37 AM

And (all-caps is from the original):



securpo on 9 May 2008, 10:43 AM

Of course, there are two kinds of consequences in this world. There are the natural consequences of an action, and then there are the artificial consequences that people attach to an action by their chosen responses. In this case the only natural consequence of not standing for the Pledge is getting to spend a minute longer sitting rather than standing. The consequences that these three teenagers are being forced to deal with are better described as the choice of school administrators to flip out and try to make teenagers suffer in the name of Old Glory. In any case, statist logic aside, the fact that school administrators flip out when you don’t obey this stupid policy can hardly be used as a justification for their flipping out, without making your argument do doughnuts around the parking lot.

And then there’s this:

I find it interesting that the school has a policy that students must stand during the Pledge. But, policy is policy and rules are rules, so I agree that the students should be punished. I do think it’s an anti-patriotic policy though and standing for the Pledge would be made more meaningful if kids are allowed to do it through free will.

ttepley @ 9 May 2008, 10:28 AM

In other words, God forbid that anyone should sit down when there are rules to be followed. Students should be punished for refusing to co-operate with a policy which you yourself believe to be foolish and wrong, because rules and authority need no rational justification, and indeed can defy any rational justification, and they ought to be obeyed nevertheless.

And then there’s this:

My son wasn’t being defiant against America

My son wasn’t being defiant against America, said Kim Dahl, mother of one of the students, Brandt, who attends Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Junior High School in western Minnesota. Yet The school’s handbook says all students are required to stand but are not obligated to recite the pledge. So her son wasn’t being defiant against America, but defiant to the school policy itself. Ignorance is not a justifiable defense.

pizann0 9 May 2008, 12:12 PM

I can’t stand flag creeps. I think that kind of belligerent theo-nationalism is absurd, contemptible, and dangerous. But what’s even worse than those who believe that every individual conscience should be turned towards a servile worship of the State, are those who believe that whatever your individual conscience is turned towards, you damn well ought to ignore it and follow the rules, because being defiant to authority is itself a mortal sin, whatever that authority may be and however pointless or wrong may be the rules that they are trying to impose. Where the complaint is not that they ought to be worshipping the one true God, but rather that they had damn well better bow down, no matter what may be before them at the altar.

Incidentally, the state ACLU says that punishing these students is against the rules, as set out in the U.S. Constitution and in rulings by the Supreme Court. I don’t care, and neither should anybody else.

See also:

More Veterans for Vandalism and Petty Thieving

Jim Brossert is a deranged bully who is apparently prone to violence when he doesn’t get his way. Most recently, he barged into a private place of business with an army combat knife, defaced the bar-keep’s private flagpole and stole his American flag, used his status as a retired soldier to justify his violent tantrum, and then hollered a challenge for unarmed bystanders to fight him while still wielding a huge knife.

For this act of vandalism and petty theft, Sarge praises Jim Brossert as an American Hero.

At Shirley Buxton’s blog, commenter Maverickti, who describes the American flag as holy, says I am a baptised Roman Catholic, serving my 19th year in the Army. When I saw Jim doing what he did, I cheered!

At Lone Star Blog, commenter John Harbaugh suggests trespassing in a private place of business and harassing or intimidating the barkeep and his customers, in order to drive the bar out of business: I think that the INS should visit the bar owner. Once or twice a day until his clientèle quit coming. … If I lived in Reno, I would start showing up myself. I am also a crazy Vet.

Also, Maverickti shows up again to say hoo-rah! for Jim Brossert and the Holy American Flag once more: to Mr. Jim Brossert: You make me proud! You are the ideal that I enlisted to protect. Know that I am sending your video to everyone I know to show how a TRUE AMERICAN acts when he sees what is not right. That was truly a heroic deed. In response to an earlier commenter who has the temerity to point out that taking somebody else’s flag is, you know, stealing, and that maybe these freedom-loving types might not want to associate themselves with that sort of thing, Maverickti adds George, it's a free country, you can leave any time. The sooner the better.

J.F., Command Master Chief, US Navy (retired), believes that freedom of speech and expression includes the right to express yourself by vandalizing and stealing other people’s private property: So now, the Soviet Socialist State of NV along with it Socialist Commandos, the ACLU, want to prosecute the U.S. army vet for exercising his First Amendment which protects every American’s right to speak and express themselves, Reno city counsel has the authority to enact an ordinance if not already on the books that would deescalate these types of situations but, the question is, did they and will they?

A.B. thinks Having the Mexican flag diplayed above our beloved American flag is a personal insult to myself and all my fellow veterans.If you love Mexico so much go back! Apparently stealing other people’s stuff and challenging them to fight you for it — when they are unarmed and you have a big combat knife in your hand — is an appropriate response to a personal insult.

C. W. GMC(SW/AW) USN Ret. thinks To those who think that vet was wrong, why don’t you ask a vet what flag means to them before you condemn him. … Sure maybe that Vet could have handled it different but as far as I’m concerned he handled it was the way many more of us should have the courage to do. Next time you see a vet why not let them know that what they did truly means something and it was appreciated.

S.E. of Shingle Springs, California claims that it is treason — a federal crime punishable by death — not to conform to voluntary guidelines based on military etiquette when you fly a flag on your own property: Mexican Flag flying over USA flag being cut down by vet…GOOD FOR HIM. It is TREASON to fly the flag of another country above our own. You are in our country and must show the proper respect as such. This is the USA , not Mexico, if you must fly your countries flag, thatn do it repctfully and in accordance with DOD guidline of proper flag etiquette. You can look up the BSA’s website on proper flag etiquette if you are unsure. As a retired member of the armed forces I am very proud of the vet that cut it down-god bless him.

J.C. from Tahoe, whose family is full of LEGAL immigrants AND veterans, is sick of people coming to the US and demanding we give them rights.

Please note that not all retired soldiers are crazy or violent creeps, or cheerleaders for crazy, violent creeps. Many are perfectly decent people. But please also note that these particular veterans, these apologists and sycophants for vandalism, petty thieving, and vigilante censorship, who associate the cause of America and their beloved flag with the freedom to intimidate and steal from people who offend you, and who display not the slightest bit of concern for private property or freedom of expression when it comes to their delicate sensibilities about Patriotic Correctness, are exactly the same bunch of whiners who petulantly demand a clap on the back and a validation of the awesome superiority of their personal career choice at every opportunity, because, after all, they Defend Our Freedom.

From what, exactly? With defenders like these, who needs attackers?

Veterans Against Individual Freedom

Usually, if somebody chooses to decorate his business in a way that you don’t like, there are a lot of ways that you could try to deal with the situation. You could grit your teeth and ignore it. Or you could try to have a talk with the business owner. Or you could mount a pressure campaign or a boycott of the business.

Or you barge your way onto somebody else’s property, whip out a huge knife, and use it to deface their private property in order to fix the problem.

Normally, if you acted like this just about everyone would figure you for a two-bit thug and dangerous nut. As well they should.

Unless, of course, you’re an Anglo dude defacing a Hispanic bar-owner’s private property in order to force everyone to follow your own military etiquette towards the flag of the United States. See, there’s this Hispanic bar up in Reno, and a few days ago the local news got a tip that something terrible was happening there. To wit, the owner chose to fly a Mexican flag above an American flag on his own private flagpole. After they rushed out to cover this absolutely riveting breaking story, local two-bit thug and dangerous nut Jim Brossert decided to deal with the situation by grabbing his old army knife and going down to the bar, with a camera man following him. Against the owner’s will, he cut down the flags, then stole the bar owner’s American flag and threw the bar owner’s Mexican flag down onto the ground. Just for good measure, he went on a tirade for the camera about how having been a soldier gives him the right to trash other people’s property for the sake of his flag-worship power trip, and, just for good measure, he bellows that he wants one of the (unarmed) bystanders to fight him. All the while swinging his huge combat knife around.

I’m Jim Brossert and I took this flag down in honor of my country with a knife from the United States army. I’m a veteran, I am not going to see this done to my country. if they want to fight us, then they need to be men, and they need to come and fight us, but I want somebody to fight me for this flag. They’re not going to get it back.

Of course, this bit of inquisitorial theo-nationalist violence has earned this unhinged prick a sympathetic mention from InfoWars and a steady stream of praise from the Great Americans at the local news station’s message board, on Digg, etc., who apparently believe that, in the Sweet Land of Liberty that they are so keen to defend, this barkeep’s right to freely express his own cultural or political priorities is worth less than nothing against the delicate sensibilities of a retired government thug about how flags that don’t belong to him ought to be displayed. Along the way, several of the bellowing blowhard brigade dutifully cite their own military records, as if that proved anything. Several are appalled by the local authorities’ statements that Brossert could be prosecuted for his actions, if the barkeep presses charges, and indignantly assert that Brossert has a First Amendment right to express himself by destroying or stealing other people’s property.

Almost all of the commentators insist on repeating a lie, which originated with the local news report, to the effect that the bar owner was violating federal law by flying another flag above the United States flag. (One of them goes so far as to say that the bar owner is guilty of the federal crime of treason.) In fact there is no such federal law. The Federal Flag Code (4 U.S.C. §Â§ 4–10), which has no enforcement section and assigns no penalties for non-compliance, explicitly states that it is a set of voluntary guidelines for the use of such civilians or civilian groups or organizations as may not be required to conform with regulations promulgated by one or more executive departments of the Government of the United States. Now, if there were any federal law against flying your own flag however you see fit to fly it, that law would be an obvious and stupid form of tyranny, and every one of us would have a perfect right to defy and resist such a law on our own property. But the fact that so many of the self-appointed Home Guard have a manifest felt need to believe in a State that can and will use violence to punish offenses against the dignity of their flag, the visible incarnation of the State, should tell you something about what sort of America these creeps hope to protect against the scourge of peaceful migrant workers.

Ten years ago, Timothy Madigan interviewed Barbara Ehrenreich for Free Inquiry, on Blood Rites, her recently published book on the religious roots of war. Along the way, she had this to say about the emergence of the civic religion in modern Europe, Japan, and America:

EHRENREICH: … With the invention of the gun, of course, the foot soldier became preeminent. It was the end of the mounted elite warrior, and so the religion of war had to change, too. It had to become much more inclusive. … Ordinary people were encouraged to identify with a new kind of deity–the nation-state.

FI: This, as you point out, models the conventional religions.

EHRENREICH: And can replace them. In my book there are two very striking cases that I look at briefly. One was state Shintoism in Japan in the 1930s and 40s, where you have an existing religion, Shintoism, that sort of grafts onto it European-style nationalism to form something new. It becomes emperor worship. It has the old religion in it, but it really is something new. In the case of Nazism, Hitler displaced Christianity. He very consciously set out to make a free-standing, new religion out of nationalism, which would be centered on him, just as the Japanese were centered on their emperor.

FI: You say the American version is not as virulent as Germany or the Shinto case, but I wonder if you could just talk a little bit about what you call the cult of the flag?

EHRENREICH: We make a fetish out of our flag; we treat it as an object of veneration. Every year a proposed amendment to the Constitution comes up that would make it illegal to desecrate the flag. Fascinating word, desecrate.

I think that, like the Japanese and the Germans in the 1930s and 40s, we are equally wrapped up in nationalism as our unofficial–and unexamined–religion.

We certainly saw that coming to a frenzied peak in the Gulf War with flags being waved everywhere. It became actually dangerous or at least perhaps just a little awkward to express dissent because there was such a powerful onrush of feelings at that moment.

–Timothy Madigan and Barbara Ehrenreich, Free Inquiry. (1997-12-22): Dissecting the passions of war

There is an elaborate and formalized liturgy of theo-nationalist rites surrounding the military colors of the United States–a liturgy replete with hymns, recited creeds, high holy days, and solemn processions officiated by a uniformed military priesthood. The liturgy is instilled and practiced with great care through government schools, in federal bureaucracy buildings, and (of course) throughout the intensely ritualistic culture of the government’s military cadres. But that is hardly enough for the state and its minions. Busybodies and prigs ensure that an officious and rigid reverence for the flag, based directly on military etiquette and codified by the federal government, is practiced in social clubs, sports matches, and even carried into putatively Christian churches, where the flags of a worldly nation often occupy more visual space in the sanctuary than the Cross. Any lack of reverence for these arbitrary rites is painted as the most despicable sort of vice, and indeed an affront to all the true believers, if not an outright crime against God Himself.

Update 2007-12-03: Minor edits for clarity.

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