Upon considering America’s personal meaning to me, I realized that I had stumbled upon yet another great contradiction. The first thoughts that came to my mind when thinking of America were images of the burning American flag during the protests in Ferguson and of the American Humanist Association’s recent protest against the Pledge of Allegiance. To me, these highly controversial “anti-flag” images really exemplify how I am living in a nation where disrespecting such an important symbol is not punishable by law (see: Texas vs. Johnson 1989). This freedom truly upholds the power of our First Amendment, and, to me, illustrates the level of freedom here in America.
Yet, it occurred to me that even though it is my right as an American to rebel against the pledge or the flag, we as a nation still have a pledge of allegiance set as a social norm in the first place, thus creating the contradiction. We are given the freedom to do what we want (within reason) yet there is an expected way to behave when it comes to patriotism. Sure, we have the ability to sit out the pledge of allegiance, but why should such a free country need to instate a pledge in our schools and courts in the first place? To demonstrate what I mean, I will provide a hypothetical example; for instance, if it were broadcasted on the news that North Korea had implemented a pledge of allegiance in which all citizens were expected to stand and chant out an ode to their nation in a cult-like fashion, many American’s would deem this a “commie thing” and lambast North Korea for it. However, is that truly any different from us pledging to a piece of cloth to show the world that we are not a godless nation? In my personal experience, not saying the pledge will not get you killed, but there is certainly backlash to go along with this act of civil disobedience. While I never sat out the pledge myself, I have received criticism merely for omitting the “under God” portion even though I am given the right not to say any or all of it. Similarly, the image of the burning flag can practically reignite the Red Scare, and lead the burner to be deemed godless, communist, or savage (just look at the video description of the video linked below or any of the angry comments). Yet, both of these actions are one hundred percent legal according to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ultimately, I am extraordinarily thankful for the amount of freedom given to me as an American citizen. I can voice my unpopular opinion without having to fear for my life. However, it becomes evident that there are a set of cultural norms here in America and they define my vision America. While I have never burned a flag, nor would I ever desire to do so, I am happy to live in a nation where if I were to choose to do so, I would be protected by our Constitution. America is a nation in which everyone is given a vast amount of personal liberty, yet one must truly be daring to take advantage of this liberty to its fullest extent.