September 2, 2010

Defining Patriotism by the Flag You Fly

So this guy in Arizona hung up a Gadsden Flag, the ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flag made famous back in the 1770’s as a symbol of our determination not to be stepped on by the British. While the flag has been historically significant since then, it’s been flying at his house only for a few months; the homeowner say’s he not a member of the Tea Party, who has adopted the flag as a symbol, but only appreciates the historical significance of the flag and the idea for which it stands. 

Enter the Homeowner’s Association, who has cited the homeowner for having ‘debris’ on his roof in violation of the Association's rules, based on an Arizona statute  that defines what flags a homeowner’s association cannot prohibit, and of course by omission defines what flags can be prohibited as pretty much ‘everything not listed above.’  The homeowner vows to fight and (by some accounts) is asking for donations for his legal bills.

Naturally, the ACLU has gotten involved, because they can and I guess they should – if you think it's OK for them to advocate for one man's rights over the rights of the other members of the homeowner's association, who are abiding by the rules they accepted when they either moved to the neighborhood, or by staying there. But that's a whole nother issue entirely.  

Want to know what the biggest problem is, though? It’s not the homeowner himself, who for whatever reason decided to put up a flag that he knows is against the rules (after all, he's a former director of the association) and it’s not even the homeowner’s association, which by design has to enforce all of the rules on their books lest they run into accusations of selective enforcement, and we all know where those go…

To me, the real problem is the politicians who, in a knee-jerk definition of patriotism, decided to craft a law on this issue, and narrowly defined the acceptable flags as “the American flag or an official or replica of a flag of the United States army, navy, air force, marine corps or coast guard, The POW/MIA flag, the Arizona State Flag, or an Arizona Indian nation flag.” That’s it – nothing else. 

Some say the Gadsden flag is a ‘replica’ of a military flag and should therefore be allowed, but that’s really just splitting hairs, and frankly to officially identify (within confines that will hold up in court) all of the flags ever used formally or informally, officially or unofficially, by any branch of the military would be asinine. And, in reality, we have many more significant things to worry about, and to legislate about, than what flags can fly over someone’s house.

Ironically, the Gadsden flag design was lifted from this Ben Franklin illustration of a severed snake, with the message Join, or Die.   If only we’d pay attention to Franklin’s message of unity, rather than this other nonsense of trying to define patriotism, and trying to make one person's rights more 'right' than everyone else's, we’d be much better off.