January 7, 2008

The First Amendment and Respect

Recently, a former colleague sent me an email that went on and on about how wonderful it is to live in a country where we wouldn’t even think about burning the flag in protest. How ‘True Americans’ are proud of being Christians. How respect is something we bestow on our elders because they’re older than we are—not because they’ve earned it. How placing your hand over your heart when the flag passes by is a Virtuous Act. And, so is bowing your head when someone prays. How putting the Ten Commandments up on public property is a Good Thing. And how saying ‘Happy Holidays’ is bad while saying, ‘Merry Christmas’ is good. And on and on.

The email said, in essence, that we should do away with the First Amendment. That Christianity is the only valid way of looking at the universe and that it’s all right to enforce that view on others.

Now, I thought this woman knew me better than that. Not only was I offended by her message, I was frightened by it.
Our forefathers set up the Constitution for very good reasons.
They added the First Amendment so we could worship as we choose, or not; so we could educate ourselves; so we could agree to disagree with each other without fear of persecution.

They did that, in my opinion, because they'd had classical educations and knew the history of Europe very, very well.
They knew that people had been tortured, impaled and burned at the stake for disagreeing with their respective monarchs' views on religion.
They knew the printed word had been first controlled and, later, manipulated by those in power in order to control the masses.
They knew that people had been persecuted for disagreeing with the ruling classes and saying so.
And they wanted to be sure those things couldn't happen here.

To see us heading back in that direction today terrifies me.
I want to go on record here:
Yes, I bow my head when someone prays [if they bow theirs]—no matter what God, Goddess or natural phenomenon they may be praying to. I do it because it is good manners to do so and out of respect for their views—whether or not I share them.
I also keep in mind that bowing one’s head is a medieval custom begun when monarchs descended from their thrones and walked among their subjects. It was a sign of forced respect from one human being by another.
I do not believe that any deity requires it. If I believed it did, I would have to conclude that that deity was a paranoid being who was so afraid I would get uppity it had to constantly remind itself that it is ‘better’ than me. And I don’t believe that.

I practice good manners out of respect for myself. as well as respect for others.

I reserve the feeling of respect for individuals—not objects.
Pieces of fabric are things; and flags are pieces of fabric. Thus, they do not inherently deserve respect. They can stand for other things such as nations; and nations, being clusters of people, can't earn respect. Only individuals can do that—by their individual actions.

I hold respect for those individuals who have earned my respect. Not to do so would, in my opinion, cheapen respect itself. To show it toward people simply because they have lived longer than I have suggests I shouldn’t have respect for those who are younger than I am—no matter what they may have done to actually earn my respect. That makes no sense to me, at all.

I don’t demand your respect if I haven't done anything to earn it—no matter what our respective ages may be.

And people who wrap themselves in the flag and attempt to force their views on me are, imo, treating me with contempt while demanding my respect. And, no, I won’t go along with them.
Oh, and that email message that started this diatribe? Yes, I wrote back airing my concerns. It was the respectful thing to do—and my right under the First Amendment.


PoliShifter said...

There are those in my family that ciruclate the same types of emails, hell they may be the same emails.

Usually they are dripping with all sorts of 'patriotic' imagery...flags, military equipement, country folk, scenic country, and little boys holding a flag with a puppy dog.

They frighten me too because while these people claim to be 'real' Americans and have a lock on Patriotism they are the most un-American people out there.

LET'S TALK said...

Oh two crows, I really enjoyed reading this post. I could not have said thing any better. Great job!

an average patriot said...

two crows
I have to laugh! I was reading and of course right away had my own thoughts. Then I scrolled down and see they mirrored yours. Except for burning the flag.
When I see that they are defiling my feelings and the memories of my family who has believed in this country.
I don't think my grandfathers died so some ignorant child can say FU, burn our flag, and defile their memory and I wouldn't stand for it myself!

two crows said...

yeah, Poli--
these views scare the hell out of me.

thanks, LT--
I needed that. I've spent the last hour reading a piece in Huffington Post that waxed eloquent about Obama's win -- and thoroughly bashed the baby boomers in the process [btw--Obama, having been born in 1961 IS a baby boomer!]

and the comments section degenerated into a trashing the boomers festival-- accusing us of creating capitalism [uhh-- didn't the VICTORIANS do that? I may be old, but I'm not THAT old!] and of voting in Reagan and both Bushes.
oh, puhleeze!
and, when Boomers came in and corrected the errors in their comments -- they just held onto their viewpoints and trashed us again.

as I've said many times -- the people who came before us trashed us because there were 'too many' of us [uhh-- who gave birth to us?] and those who've come after us are blaming us because we couldn't fix 5000 years of history in 40 years.
anyhow -- thank you.

two crows said...

hi, AAP--
I've never burned any flag -- of any nation. and I'm not advocating it for that very reason. it is a sign of disrespect to people who don't deserve that.
I DO, though, reserve my respect for people who have earned it -- and I don't perceive any piece of fabric as having earned my respect.
still, burning a flag shuts down communication -- and I'm never in favor of doing that.

fwiw, I DO put flag stamps on envelopes upside down for the traditional reason -- it's a signal of distress. and our nation IS in distress.
and its subtle enough that I probably won't get arrested.

dguzman said...

You go, girl. I get a lot of similar religious/"patriotic" emails at my work now (surrounded by christocentric repubs), as polishifter mentions. I just hit Delete and move on.

I've never burned a flag, and never been at a protest where anyone burned one (not to my knowledge, anyway). I don't know how I'd feel about it -- probably uncomfortable. I still get tears in my eyes during the national anthem, even though I'm thoroughly disgusted with the corporate-control empire the USA has become.

I bow my head during other people's prayers for the same reason you do; I'm an atheist, but I'm not a rude one.

Great post.

two crows said...

hey, dguzman and welcome to PP&D--
I usually just hit delete, too. but I've known this woman for years and never knew she had this dark side. I was so shocked I couldn't just let it pass but had to at least try and talk some sense to her.
she never answered my email so it was probably a fruitless exercise. still. . . .

TomCat said...

TC, that's an excellent post, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I try to treat others with respect, and though certainly not perfect, I do OK. At another blog today, I read a comment that was very disrespectful to someone we both know. I'd commented since their comment, but had not noticed it first time around. I decided to speak up in that person's defense only to discover that you already had. Thank you for practicing what you preach.