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Flag Football

07.05.2006 | SOCIETY

Last week, the US Senate took a brief recess from persecuting The New York Times to vote on a Constitutional amendment criminalizing desecration of the American flag. And not a moment too soon. Though most of us would never think of burning a flag unless Ann Coulter was wrapped in it, it’s time to face facts. This thing has gotten out of control. Everywhere you look these days -- every street corner, bowling alley, and infomercial -- there’s some pyro with a butane flicker lighting up Old Glory.

There were actually two separate votes -- one on proposed federal legislation banning desecration of the flag and a second one on whether to amend the Constitution itself. A third vote, on whether to adopt a Constitutional amendment banning desecration of the Constitution by frivolous amendment, was not taken. Unfortunately, they couldn’t quite sew it up this time. With 66 votes in favor, the Senate is still a Kerry or Clinton away from moving the amendment forward. But with only a single additional vote needed, that could happen one fine day when fence-sitter Joe Lieberman decides to chew his gum on the right side. When it does, a whole new confusing era of flag law will be ushered in.

First we will need to know what kind of sentences we’re talking about. A year? Five years? How about a week per star, a month per stripe? Lawmakers will need to codify first and second degree flag burning, flag-slaughter, and flag burning in self-defense. Decades of case law will be required to sort out the legality of torching state, municipal, and Lions Club flags. Look forward to month-long Congressional filibusters on the legal status of flag linen, flag pajamas, and flag underwear. The Supreme Court will eventually hand down a 125-page ruling on the legality of flag toilet paper, with Justice Alito sitting out.

Our very notions of free speech will be challenged. Can you run into a crowded theater and yell "Flag on fire?" What if a flag burns in the woods and no one’s there to see it? What about the penalty for playing flag football? Not the political kind being played right now by Bill Frist. I mean the kind using a real American flag. I’ve seen it, or at least dreamt it, and I’ll tell you this -- someone has to pay.

It gets more complicated. In the past, veterans caught burning the Stars and Stripes have claimed they were holding a flag funeral. This raises the fundamental question of whether the flag was really dead or was just being euthanized. Florida Governor Jeb Bush has issued several executive orders prohibiting the removal of life support from comatose flags, while the AMA has stressed the importance of all flags preparing a living will.

Unfortunately, responding to flag burnings with arrests, prosecution, and incarceration may no longer be enough. The President believes we need to stop flag burnings before they happen. Through a series of preemptive measures, we can strike at the heart of those insurgents fanning the flames.

By aggressive electronic monitoring, the Department of Homeland Security can track all flags ordered over the internet. Large orders of flags should raise a flag. Repeated smaller orders of flags should raise several smaller flags. Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint are already being asked to turn over records of all calls made to and from flag manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers. Flag raids on homes and business will no longer require a warrant, and knocking is optional.

Conspiracy to burn a flag is a serious offense. RICO laws will be extended to cover any two individuals convening at any type of banner or emblem or transporting a flag across state lines. Flag cells must be infiltrated and brought down. Ask any intelligence officer and they’ll tell you -- if you want to stop flag burning, follow the money. Wool and cotton fibers can usually be traced back to Egypt, Syria, Morocco and other hotbeds of insurrection. French and Middle Eastern burners of American flags will be extradited to Guantanamo Bay, while Americans igniting foreign flags will be given several chances to win a time share.

Should we go in and fail to find a flag, we can simply keep looking and blame the CIA. Eventually, some sort of logo or pennant will turn up somewhere. In the meantime, there are plenty of travel bags to search for Viagra without a prescription. Stay the course.

Naturally, critics like the ACLU argue that jail time for flag burners qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment and that the rate of recidivism will be high. They contend prison will be a place where flag burners meet other flag burners and come out more hardened flag burners. Regardless, with November elections looming large, this summer promises to be one of the busiest ever for right wing pontificating, debating, and voting on such vital national interests as, the Pledge of Allegiance, same-sex marriage, internet poker, requiring English when ordering a taco, intelligent design, and whether Betsy Ross was a virgin.

About the Author
Rich Herschlag is the author of a new book, Before the Glory: 20 Baseball Heroes Talk About Growing Up and Turning Hard Times Into Home Runs (HCI, 2007). His other books include Lay Low and Don't Make the Big Mistake (Simon & Schuster, 1997) and Women Are From Manhattan, Men Are From Brooklyn (Black Maverick, 2002).

Also an engineer, he runs a consulting business, Turnkey Structural, that specializes in the rehabilitation of residential and commercial buildings. Also a radio commentator, he can be visited at

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