The Supreme Court has authored many, many stupid opinions. Perhaps the stupidest line in Supreme Court history, however, came from Justice Anthony Kennedy's concurrence in Texas v. Johnson
(1989). That case invalidated 48 state laws prohibiting the burning of the American flag, as well as a federal law. Kennedy explained the Court's position: "It is poignant but fundamental that the flag protects those who hold it in contempt."
Well, not so much. The flag doesn't protect us from paying our taxes if we disagree with government policy; the flag doesn't protect us from urinating in public. Burning the flag is a behavior, not a form of speech. And there are many forms of behavior that express viewpoints that are simply out of bounds. It is interesting that while it is well accepted that there is no right to secede from the federal government, burning the flag - the ultimate repudiation of American sovereignty - is a hallmark of liberal "free speech."
Why does this come up now? Because at Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, singer/actor Tyrese Gibson decided that the words to the Star Spangled Banner needed some updating. Reports ICelebz.com: "Gibson, who hails from California, took the chance to sing the anthem and cheer his favorite team at the same time. He replaced the line ‘our flag was still there' with ‘our Lakers were still there.'" According to the LA Times
initial report, the crowd cheered the substitution. According to TVShark.com, Jeannie Buss, Lakers' executive VP, thought the "anthem was awesome."
Treating the National Anthem like "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" is something you'd only see in Hollywood, where patriotism is taken lightly and the flag is seen as just another piece of cloth. Degrading patriotic symbols in favor of the "dissent is patriotic" bumper sticker anti-patriotism of the left is in vogue. A famous politician, who shall remain unnamed because I don't really feel like undergoing an IRS audit, sums up the Hollywood position nicely: "The truth is that right after 9/11, I had a [flag] pin. Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we're talking about the Iraq war, that became a substitute for, I think, true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security. I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest. Instead I'm going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great and hopefully will be a testament to my patriotism."
Symbols matter. By degrading symbols like the flag and the national anthem, we degrade the patriotic feeling that brings significance to those symbols. You cannot burn the flag with the same reverence you salute the flag; you cannot pervert the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner with the same patriotic fervor with which you would sing it straight. Pretending that we can ignore the symbols that unite us with our ancestors - after all, the same flag the Supreme Court allows to burn flew over Fort McHenry as Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner in 1814 - is an exercise is stupidity and an exercise in shallowness. American history did not begin the day Tyrese Gibson was born, or the day Barack Obama entered office, or September 11, 2001. American history - the tapestry of liberty that unites us all - must be respected, not mocked or burned.
In 100 years, the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant will be a minor footnote in American culture. In 1000 years, people will still speak of the glory and power of American ideals, and will look with respect at the symbols the Hollywood left so easily discards.