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First Amendment greater than patriotism symbolized in cloth

Updated: 
September 29, 2017 - 12:05am

Many of the things in life we have imbued with a sense of sanctity that the object doesn’t typically have. These objects can be simple representatives of a larger principle or, when taken too far, can become the “graven images,” the idols, that ancient religions condemned.

This phenomenon comes about when people become overly invested in what they believe the object stands for. This often happens in religious settings but can be seen in various incarnations of patriotism.

Patriotism can be defined as a deeply held love for country, but these days the word has become a yardstick by which to measure your neighbor. If you don’t bow down to the flag you are not a patriot. Yet, the flag is nothing more than a piece of cloth; manufacturers all over sew them up from regular materials. The true value of a flag is the value that you, yourself, put in it. The same with the anthem. It’s a song. The value of the song is that tightening in your chest and the straightening of shoulders you feel when you hear it. To Americans the flag and the anthem are symbols of what is right with our country. But they are, in the end, a piece of cloth and a song, which no one is required to worship.

So, what symbol do we have to represent what’s not right with our country?

We actually have something just as powerful as the flag and the anthem, maybe more so: We have our constitutionally derived right to free speech, including the right to protest when we feel something is wrong. Even the Supreme Court has upheld that the right to protest, even to the extent of burning the flag, is a constitutionally protected right.

The NFL players were actually being more patriotic by protesting a serious wrong, violence against blacks, a wrong endemic in our country, than those who cling to blind allegiance of a symbolic piece of cloth.

Don’t get me wrong: I love our country, I’m the widow of a veteran of three wars, I fly the flag on all national occasions. I love the flag for what it means to me. But it won’t save us from despots. The First Amendment will.

Christine A. Owens is a resident of Kailua-Kona.

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