Respecting the flag is something that in my opinion is very poorly defined. What exactly does it mean to disrespect the flag? Why does the flag deserve our undying respect? Why is it looked down on to not respect a piece of cloth? Well, most would argue that the flag represents something more than just a cloth, it represents the nation and everyone who has fought for it. In that case, the question of “should we respect the flag?” turns into the question “should we respect the nation?”. Well that depends on what you mean by respect, if by respect you mean having sympathy for all the causes of the nation no matter what, then you can count me out and here is why.
There is no set of beliefs, ideas, or organizations that are granted special privilege and are exempt from criticism. The nation itself doesn’t have the right to not be questioned and it most certainly shouldn’t expect that from citizens who are granted the right to freedom of thought and expression through its government. The nation’s ideals can and should be brought into question by the public, that is how we start new conversations about how our legislature should and shouldn’t change. How are we supposed to know if people are unhappy with current laws and regulations if all we see is everyone showing unquestioned loyalty towards the nation and what it stands for.
The recent case of athletes kneeling during the national anthem is a prime example of people using symbolic speech (something that is protected by the first amendment) to raise awareness of issues they have with the nation in which they are affected by. Kneeling during the anthem is a perfectly safe and valid way of protesting a set of ideas which they feel haven’t properly represented their best interests. Collin Kaepernick for instance kneeled because he feels as though police brutality is currently a huge issue which the government has not done much about and he wanted to bring attention to that through symbolic speech of kneeling during the anthem.
It should not be considered taboo to criticize your own country, in fact it should be the norm. Criticizing something means you have legitimate concerns about it and, most importantly, shows that you care about it. Too often I see the conflation of ideas and beliefs with people, and they are not the same thing. Nations and the things they stand for (their ideas) are not people, they don’t have the right to not be harshly criticized, quite the opposite in fact. We should criticize the nation and what it stands for if we feel we have legitimate concerns. If we do not raise our voice then our problems with the nation in which we are a part and therefore directly affects us will fall on deaf ears and blind eyes and our right to freedom of speech will have been utterly wasted.
There has been some recent controversy over football players kneeling during the national anthem. Some people feel like disrespecting the flag and what it stands for is the best way to speak out against the issues that people in America face today. This, however, both misrepresents the stance of the people who do not respect the flag and overall further fractures the country.
The flag represents more than the current country – it represents the ideals the country was founded upon. You might not agree with the current president’s policies, or the laws in this country, or who enforces those laws, but the flag is something above; it is the ideal image of equality and just treatment. By not showing proper respect for it, someone gives off the impression that they do not agree with those ideals, not merely the way the government chooses to interpret those ideals; the ideals that all men (and women) are created equal, that everybody has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Furthermore, this is unnecessarily fracturing the country when unity is needed most. In order to fight the injustices that people are facing, we need to unify, not divide. The 60s civil rights movement would not have been possible without unity on the side of the protesters. The only way they were able to right the injustices they saw in the system was to unify behind a cohesive message, with clearly defined goals. Not respecting the flag is both highly divisive and does not send a clear message. There are those who are on the fence, and this only hurts the cause by creating more confusion and driving them away.
I respect people’s right to free speech, and by no means am I telling them that they should be punished for this, or that this should be illegal; merely saying that those who wish to unify the country against these issues would be better served by making a public statement instead of spitting in the symbol of the very ideals they wish was a reality.