An acquaintance of mine recently posted the above piece of tripe on facebook in an earnest manner, and proceeded to argue with me in favor of it's central idea. I've had some similar discussions lately, so I thought I'd post an entry about it. Let us start with oh just an obscure line from an old document that is lying around:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
That is, you guessed it, the First Amendment! Two amendments in as many days!
As noted I've had other discussions recently as well, with people who don't seem to quite value Freedom of Speech.
After I pointed out that in the United States people can display offensive symbols because Freedom of Speech, "I don't agree with what you're saying but I'll defend to the death your right to say it," and all that, he argued that it wasn't speech because it wasn't "intellectual discourse," it was "just a symbol." To wit: "Flying a flag of any kind is intellectually inferior to to actual speech. One is sacred the other is stupid."
To this I say, and said, that the right to fly a flag or otherwise display symbols representing one's beliefs and values is in fact the exercise of Freedom of Conscience, a subsidiary of freedom of speech that I would argue is actually even more fundamental.
In cases like this I often suggest the person try applying what I can the "if the shoe was on the other foot," test. They seem to take it for granted that the moral majority and the government would always share their values. I'm eternally thankful that the Founding Fathers didn't make this mistake, and indeed, it's probably because tehy were splitting off from a government they didn't agree with that they were so insightful. So to put the shoe on the other foot, if flags and such symbols are "intellectually inferior" to protected speech, imagine just a generation ago, when the government and main stream morality could very plausibly have declared that the gay pride flag should be banned.
Another related argument I had with a friend regarded the crazy preachers who periodically appear on university campuses spewing hateful rhetoric. Once again I was defending their freedom of speech and my friend argued that this particular speech of theirs was nothing but hateful and that there should be a "usefulness," test on whether or not speech actually furthers any kind of discourse. The problem with this idea is that "usefulness" simply cannot be measured objectively, and while we may be pleased to find the government clamping down on these hateful preachers, "if the shoe were on the other foot," and the government was was not perfectly pleased with the "usefulness" of what WE wanted to say, you can bet we'd be thinking that wasn't so great any more. Simply put, no interpretation of rights can hinge upon the assumption that the government and moral weight of society will always be on your side.