When conduct is hate speech

Mark Steyn’s Chicago Sun-Times column opposes the proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting flag burning: “Don’t worry, Old Glory can take the heat.” I think the Supreme Court decision striking down laws prohibiting flag burning on First Amendment grounds was mistaken, but that case wouldn’t be at the top of my list of mistaken Supreme Court decisions to be oveturned by constitutional amendment. It wouldn’t even be at the top of my list of mistaken Supreme Court First Amendment decisions to be overturned by constitutional amendment.
Steyn, as is his custom, pursues the argument from a unique angle. You won’t be able to deduce his argument from this paragraph, but I don’t want you to miss it:

One of the big lessons of these last four years is that many, many beneficiaries of Western civilization loathe that civilization — and the media are generally inclined to blur the extent of that loathing. At last year’s Democratic Convention, when the Oscar-winning crockumentarian Michael Moore was given the seat of honor in the presidential box next to Jimmy Carter, I wonder how many TV viewers knew that the terrorist “insurgents” — the guys who kidnap and murder aid workers, hack the heads off foreigners, load Down’s syndrome youths up with explosives and send them off to detonate in shopping markets — are regarded by Moore as Iraq’s Minutemen. I wonder how many viewers knew that on Sept. 11 itself Moore’s only gripe was that the terrorists had targeted New York and Washington instead of Texas or Mississippi: “They did not deserve to die. If someone did this to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who DID NOT VOTE for him! Boston, New York, D.C. and the plane’s destination of California — these were places that voted AGAINST Bush!”

Click here for the full text of Michael Moore’s letter from which Steyn’s quote is drawn. I believe that Karl Rove may have missed Moore’s post-9/11 recipe for American action, but it might have contributed to the distinction he drew between liberals and conservatives in his speech last week: “Let’s mourn, let’s grieve, and when it’s appropriate let’s examine our contribution to the unsafe world we live in.”
DEACON adds: I agree with Steyn’s position and with the Supreme Court decision that flag-burning is protected free speech. Flag-burning expresses anti-Americanism in such a deplorable way that no form of verbal communication seems able to convey quite the same meaning. That’s why banning it is at or near the top of the list of proposed constitutional amendments despite the existence, as Scott notes, of better candidates. And that’s why I believe this form of expression is protected by the First Amendment and should continue to be.


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