I've found myself at odds with friends over this issue. I see many memes and other declarations on Facebook claiming that, "If you disrespect the flag in front of me, you'll get your ass beat." That is what prompted this long overdue post.
So, in the United States, you have the 1st Amendment protected right to freedom of speech. This speech includes desecration and burning of the American Flag. For many, the flag is a representation of the ideals our nation was founded on. The Bill of Rights is sort of this country's sacred 10 commandments. That being said, the top of the list is freedom of speech.
So, it appears exercising your freedom of speech to desecrate the symbol of that freedom is self-defeating. The problem is, symbols are interpreted differently by different people. The Stars & Stripes are a symbol of imperialism and oppression to foreigners around the world. It's the symbol of corporate greed, and American hypocrisy of bombing foreign countries into democracy. It's even a symbol of the Great Satan to certain religious zealots. Perhaps this is the reason the Supreme Court decided that desecrating the flag should be considered free speech.
No matter the reasoning behind the SCOTUS ruling, they've held (quite consistently) that the offensive act of desecration of the flag is a protected right. Yet, there are many "patriots" who suspend logic and succumb to the emotional response of someone destroying "their" symbol. Silly slogans spill from their mouths, such as, "You don't like USA, get out!"
The truth is, flag burners, and the people that threaten violence to stop them are both misguided. They've both put this symbol above logic and reason. Flag burners are desecrating a symbol of the freedom that allows them to burn the flag, while "patriots" attempt to oppress the flag-burners' freedom of speech, because it offends them.
This obviously hypocritical action by "patriots" is also self-defeating. How can you defend freedom when you attack anyone exercising it? This emotional reaction is most likely a symptom of nationalism.
Nationalism is a horrible way of thinking. To paraphrase Doug Stanhope, it causes you to hate people you've never met (foreigners), and to take credit for accomplishments you had nothing to do with (we saved the French's ass in WWII).
The 1st Amendment is there to protect offensive speech, because un-offensive speech doesn't need protecting. Being able to hear offensive and new ideas will do nothing to hold a society back. Conversely, if we squelch new and scary ideas, and imprison people for thinking, we will have a very hard time advancing as a society/species.
We've made mistakes in history that reflect this. The most famous is the imprisonment of Galileo Galilei for his now proven theory of heliocentrism. The man had a new idea about the universe that the political and scientific establishment disagreed with, and was locked away for it. The 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution is a safeguard against such injustices, but as long as there are "patriots" out there willing to threaten violence against people they disagree with, we still have work to do as a society.