At Arlington National Cemetery, the most ceremonial of grounds in the United States, it is illegal to wave or bear the American flag- outside of a recognized official ceremony.
The home of The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, is no longer a place where total freedom of expression is permitted.
In an attempt to keep the sacred resting place of our nation’s heroes clear of protest and strife our government passed a bill, 38 U.S. Code § 2413, which prohibits visitors from displaying any form of signage, ensign, or even flag at the military operated cemetery. The problem many are having involves the completely open ended wording of the law.
Our lawmakers no longer do much more than pay lip-service to the constitution. In order to side step the fact that this is a limitation on free speech, the law does not specify what is impermissible, hoping to not be unconstitutionally moralizing.
No one is permitted to have any object meant to convey meaning outside of a scheduled event, so war protest signs, Nazi flags, and yes, even Old Glory, are considered unlawful on the premises.
The bill was crafted with a very specific target, The Westboro Baptist Church. The “christian” organization that stands to criticize America for political toleration of homosexuality through vile signage and hateful protest.
Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-MI) wrote the bill in order to stop the group from disturbing the respectful peace of Arlington in the wake of a protest, by church members, at the cemetery.
The cemetery already prohibits certain items being left on the picturesque headstones that make the site famous, but until this law, ill actions by citizens were only very very sternly discouraged.
During the heyday of the Westboro Baptist Church, public outrage against their media stunts had reached a fever pitch. Just about everyone rightly hated the group’s vitriol. Viral images of signs saying “God hates the troops,” “Thank God for dead soldiers,” and other disturbing messages were commonplace less than a decade ago when the sight of these protesters was still novel.
As is usual, as the government attempts to dance around the constitution to morally limit freedom, it has made a blunder. Now, for years to come, even after the inevitable death of the church and its message, the citizens of our country will not be permitted to wave the symbol of freedom at our most sacred burial ground.
The Westboro protesters are now more readily declawed than they had been in the early 2000’s. Just about any trolling of the church is met with unanimous praise from the internet. No one is on the side of the haters here. Neighbors of the church, bikers, and even Pokemon Go players have all trivialized their protests.
Is it enough that the law prevents the burning of the flag by prohibiting it? Is free speech limitless? Are laws the answer to disgusting opinions? For now, many are unsure.
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