OPINION — There’s a rather uncivil war raging as a nation tries to come to grips with its latest hate crime — the killing of nine innocent people in a Charleston, South Carolina, church.
The guy who committed the horrendous slaughter told the cops he was trying to start a race war.
Because it was nine African-American people who were cut down by a nut-job, white supremacist in the South, the flashback was, for historians, to those not-so-gentler times when slaves were sold, whipped, beaten and raped in the Land of Dixie.
And, the outrage sparked a movement that has gained some traction to ban the Confederate flag.
The flag in question has been a sort of loophole for some who understand that, well, it never did represent the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, that it was a battle flag for the Army of Northern Virginia.
But, it does not diminish what the flag stood for and represents.
They argue that it is a symbol of Southern heritage.
That is also true.
But the heritage it reflects is ugly, vulgar, violent.
But, does that mean the Confederate flag should be completely banished from not only our sight, but the history books?
As much as I detest the repression, bigotry and hatred that flag represents, anybody who wishes to display it is protected by a First Amendment that also protects the words you are reading at this very moment. Limiting one person’s freedom of speech or expression limits all freedom of speech or expression, and it would be hypocritical to limit that right only to symbols or words that I agree with or approve.
No matter how detestable that flag is to me, no matter how large the insult to a race of people it diminishes, an individual has the right to fly that flag, just as I have the right to comment upon its use.
However, when it comes to a government entity — a township, municipality, state or anything else funded by taxpayer dollars that is supposed to represent the people — it needs to come down.
Flying the Confederate flag under those circumstances is equivalent to flying a flag of treason because it represents an event in history where a nation, the Confederate States of America, declared war and fought viciously against the United States of America. If you would not approve of an ISIS flag flying over the state capitol or a city office, you should not approve of a symbol of another enemy combatant flying over the same building.
Raising the Confederate flag over city, county or state buildings is a tacit endorsement of a lifestyle we, as a people, do not believe in. It’s simple as that.
The First Amendment guarantees anti-war activists the same right to assembly and speech as it does the Ku Klux Klan. It extends the same rights to Greenpeace as it does to the American Nazi Party; the same freedom to the Democrats, Republicans and those in between or at the far, far fringes.
I must admit that being the rebellious sort that I am, there was a time – a short time – that I had a Confederate flag license plate on a vehicle I owned as an expression of that rebelliousness.
However, I saw the pain it caused friends I had who were people of color.
It soon went away. Besides, there are other ways to express one’s rebelliousness.
There is no law against being stupid, just as there are no assured rewards for enlightenment.
The thing is, I guess you really don’t understand bigotry, racism or exclusionary behavior unless it is directed at you. But, once you are a victim — whether it’s because of race, religion, political persuasion, gender orientation or whatever — you never forget.
There have been some bold steps taken in recent weeks, some sensible, others not.
It is sensible to call for banishment of the flag from public buildings and property. The heritage it reflects is illegal by today’s standards.
It is not sensible, however, to insist that it be forever banished, that companies be forbidden to reproduce or sell it or for individuals to display it. You can still purchase flags emblazoned with the Swastika, another hated banner of oppression representing another nation that declared war on the United States.
It is not sensible to fly the flag over school buildings or in classrooms. All that does is further water the roots of racism.
It is also not sensible to ban the image of the flag from textbooks and teaching materials. It should — no, it must — be used as a tool to represent how here, in the land of the free and home of the brave, an entire race of people were subjected to unspeakable horrors and the struggle to establish civil rights for all.
As difficult as it may be, we need those lessons so we can do all within our power to ensure our darkest hours of history are never repeated. Revisionist history serves nobody and insults those valiant struggles of the past.
We should not ignore who we were, but instead, learn how to become what we should be.
And, we cannot start up that so-called slippery slope of censorship, because sooner or later, your words and thoughts, my words and thoughts, our words and thoughts could suddenly vanish.
As a matter of principle, I must borrow the words of Voltaire biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall, who summed up the French historian, writer and philosopher’s thoughts on free speech thusly: “I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
So, no, let’s not hide the Confederate flag or ban it.
Instead, let’s use it as a symbol, a symbol of what not to be.
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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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