JR Ball: The First Amendment goes à la carte

What is happening to us? Since when—in the name of all things red, white and blue—did the U.S. Constitution become a buffet-style affair?

Perhaps I missed the memo, but exactly when did the document created to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” devolve into American Catholicism, where we fervently embrace the stuff we like, while rejecting what we might find—say—objectionable?

The most recent example of decidedly un-American behavior comes courtesy of the Parish Council in Iberville Parish, a rural hamlet south of Baton Rouge that straddles the Mississippi River and is best-known for being home to petrochemical plants and the once-slave-owning Nottoway Plantation.

It was here that council members declared themselves a “very patriotic parish” before unanimously voting to torch the First Amendment by banning the desecration of the American flag, the Louisiana flag and the parish flag. The shocker, given our love of football, is why these good-meaning people did not include the flags of LSU and the New Orleans Saints in this burn prohibition.

Like it or not, the Supreme Court made clear in its 1989 Texas v. Johnson decision that flag burning is protected free speech under the First Amendment.

Yet, despite an Oct. 13 warning from the ACLU that such a move is unequivocally unconstitutional, the council—putting public opinion and vote-chasing above the law—declared anyone caught burning or otherwise harming one of these three fine flags faces a fine of up to $1,000 and possibly a stint in prison.

“I encourage you to protect our flag so that we never show disrespect to those who lost their lives fighting for us,” The Advocate quoted a gentleman representing the Westside Honor Guard as saying.

No doubt, this man’s heart is in the right place, but that doesn’t make his view any less wrong. Those who have lost their lives fighting for us did so to protect each and every one of our constitution rights—including the reprehensible act of burning an American flag.

I don’t support the flag burner, but being an American demands I support his right to do so.

Yet, and here’s the disappointing part, not a single citizen of Iberville Parish raised even a whisper of objection to the council’s willful disregard for the most basic of American rights—free speech.

The Second Amendment, as former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia might say, is “dead, dead, dead,” but, apparently, the First Amendment is alive and breathing.

In contrast, let someone propose anything resembling gun control and watch the strict constitutionalists rush to their battle stations.

The Second Amendment, as former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia might say, is “dead, dead, dead,” but, apparently, the First Amendment is alive and breathing.

Even at LSU—once home to Free Speech Alley and an institution rooted in the ideals of free expression, intellectual debate and tolerance—President F. King Alexander has no problem pooh-poohing the First Amendment by banning, even temporarily, people from wearing Greek paraphernalia.

Laugh if you want, but the courts have ruled that’s protected speech. And Alexander knew it—or should have—yet still went ahead with his edict in the days following the tragic, hazing-related death of an LSU fraternity pledge.

Most troubling is this: We’ve got Donald Trump—a president who swore on a Bible owned by Abraham Lincoln “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic”—running around attacking a free press and, in recent days, arguing for what essentially amounts to a state-sponsored media.

Now that’s a #sad.

And then there’s the firestorm Trump ignited over what’s patriotic and American when he took to his Twitter machine in late September to blast NFL players for kneeling in pregame protest during the playing of the national anthem.

Let’s be clear: NFL players have every right to kneel in protest over what they sincerely believe is a country that’s ignoring police brutality in the African-American community and social injustice. Here’s what’s also true: Others have an equal right to peacefully protest what they believe is a case of these players putting their cause ahead of honoring those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice in protecting this nation’s freedoms.

Both sides have the right—and are right. It’s the American way.

There can be no wavering or compromise on a freedom, like free speech, that’s so cherished by this country that we’re willing to commit young men and women to their death in its protection.

Suggesting the silencing of either side is the only wrong answer.

I am, however, curious about this: How many of those bemoaning the NFL player protests, including our president, either marched in the protests of the 1960s or found a way to dodge serving in Vietnam?

Moreover, what’s more insulting to America and those who have died in its service: Kneeling during the anthem or a president who can’t seem to tell the truth about contacting the families of fallen warriors, angering some of the families he does contact, and ridiculing Sen. John McCain for becoming a POW during the Vietnam War? Or is that #fakenews?

Regardless, it would be nice if those booing NFL players might also turn their vocal guns on those in Tiger Stadium and elsewhere who are too disrespectful to either remove their hats or stop talking during the national anthem. And what about those too busy shoving another hotdog or nacho down their throat to even bother standing?

What’s worse: Kneeling in protest or sitting for nacho cheese?

Sadly, this sudden surge of patriotism is silencing the cries for equality and social justice that former LSU Tiger Eric Reid and scores of other NFL players are demanding.

Clearly, it’s easier to drape oneself in the flag of American values than it is to discuss subjects that defy our values but, unfortunately, are all too American. 

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