So this past Monday was the Fourth of July here in the United States. And you know what that means right?
Freedom, America, beer and EXPLOSIONS!
Yep, the fourth of July is a very big event, with lots of fireworks and patriotism. And on Facebook, posts tended to fall into two categories: those expressing gratitude for the freedoms the United States has, and those mocking the over-enthusiastic nature of the holiday (myself included). But something else happened just this past weekend that I feel deserves a look.
This past Sunday, July 3rd, a 22-year-old guy in Illinois named Bryton Mellott posted several images of himself burning the United States flag. The photos have since been deleted, but not before they were shared thousands of times. Below is an image of the original post:
He also changed his profile picture to one of him burning the flag with the hashtag “youbetterburnthatflag”. “I would like to one day feel a sense of pride toward my nationality again,” Bryton said in the post. “But too little progress has been made. Too many people still suffer at the hands of politicians influenced by special interests. Too many people are still being killed and brutalized by a police force plagued with authority complexes and racism. Too many people are allowed to be slaughtered for the sake of gun manufacturer profits. Too many Americans hold hate in their hearts in the name of religion, and for fear of others. And that’s only to speak of domestic issues.”
Now of course the reaction to this was anything but quiet.
“fuckin ignorant,” one person commented on his profile picture. “you think you’re the only one who’s angry???? You think this is the worst living condition you could be in??? This just shows me ungratefulness. And for you to think anyone who has pride in their country is wrong is astounding. You must not get out much.”
“You should probably move and leave America then. You don’t deserve to live here with how little you respect those that served,” another person commented.
Of course, not everyone was in the “hate Bryton” camp. “We have freedom of speech in this country, which gives us the freedom to burn the flag,” one person wrote. “Flag burning is not a crime.”
Fox 59 reported that Bryton was arrested later on after things reached a fever pitch. They say that police “made the decision to arrest him after consulting with the Champaign County State’s Attorney’s office and weighing his free speech rights against concerns of public safety”.
He was arrested under what is known as the state’s Flag Desecration Act. He was later released and served a summons to appear in court.
Opinion time: I feel like this is a case of people obsessing over the flag itself and largely forgetting what the flag stands for. They’re worshipping the symbol instead of respecting what the symbol actually represents.
One of my favorite arguments to hear whenever something like this happens is the “my friends fought and died for that flag and your freedom, so show some respect” line. How? How did they “die for my freedom”? No one has ever explained that to me. Then again, they would never want to explain it. It’s a throwaway line meant to shut people up and stop any further discussion. Because they don’t want to hear opposing viewpoints. Their view of the world is right and damn anyone else who thinks differently.
I’ve also heard this line “I fought and my fellow soldiers died for your right to say stupid shit.”
Well maybe they should stop? Seriously, why would you go and risk your life fighting for someone’s right to say something that you’re just going to send them death threats for saying? That seems just a little bit counter-productive.
No really, apparently people sent Bryton death threats for what he did. Because there’s nothing more American than threatening to kill someone you disagree with.
Now I’m not saying Bryton is exempt from criticism. Like with anyone who says anything, people have the right to argue against him. But if we escalate to things like “you should just leave this country if you don’t like it” or “you should just kill yourself you ungrateful brat”, then I think we need to take a step back and truly examine what our purpose is.
And far too often it becomes an “us or them” style of confrontation, as if there are only two rigid groups that you can side with in the argument. We forget that there are plenty of people with a whole spectrum of opinions.
“Since I’ve served in the military, I suppose I should be angry that you’re burning a piece of cloth made in China, but I’m honestly not,” one commenter on Bryton’s profile picture said. “I’m more angry at the fact taxpayer money is being wasted to arrest and suppress someone who was speaking his mind. Still, you have to understand that this was in really bad taste. You seem like a good guy, but you should find better ways at channeling your anger to make a positive change. I hope you find happiness bud.”
Besides, flag burning is protected speech. It’s considered “symbolic speech” and protected under the U.S. Constitution. And if you don’t agree, well that’s too bad because the Supreme Court ruled it so in the aftermath of the court case Texas v. Johnson in 1984. In a 5-4 decision, they ruled that flag burning was constitutional and that “society’s outrage alone is not justification for suppressing free speech.” So there you have it.
And fortunately, the Bryton story does have a bit of a happy ending. Following Bryton’s release from jail and summons to court, Champaign County State Attorney Julia Rietz said that she will not be bringing charges against him in the case of his flag burning.
We have considered 720 ILCS 5/49-1, Flag Desecration, an Illinois statute currently in effect,” a statement released by Rietz read. “This statute was the basis for the decision by Urbana Police officers to arrest Mellott. While that statute remains in effect, it is contradictory to the US Supreme Court ruling in Texas v. Johnson. We will be discussing this issue with our local legislators and asking that they consider reviewing this statute given the constitutional issues it presents.”
Another victory for freedom of speech. Because, like it or not, we all have different voices that deserve to be heard regardless of how inflammatory they may be.
Well that’s all I have for this week. I hope you had a wonderful Fourth of July, and check back next Wednesday for another post.
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