Op-ed: The cost of liberty
I’m going to start this by saying I’m dismayed I have to even write this, however, the recent events on American University’s campus and across this nation have frankly shocked me – and I am not easily distressed. For many Americans, Tuesday was supposed to be a continuation of the last eight years under President Obama. For others, it was supposed to be an upheaval of the political elite. Whichever way you look at the results of Tuesday’s election, we have to live with it. However, I am not here to discuss why one candidate won over the other, or why this or that happened. I am addressing the events on Wednesday afternoon outside of the Mary Graydon Center on the main quad.
To summarize for some, an anti-Trump protest was held. Fine. At said protest, emotions were heated and some people decided to burn the American flag. That event is what has disturbed me.
As a former member of the military, I personally have immense respect for the flag. Other people do not hold that same respect and to put it shortly, that is completely within their rights. The Supreme Court handed down a decision in 1989 that flag burning was protected as free speech under our First Amendment, so whether you like it or not, it is law. I’m sure I will be personally attacked in many ways for saying this but it falls under the same liberty we have to decide whether to kneel when the National Anthem plays.
I understand the cost of that liberty. I come from a distinguished military family going back generations to the very founding of this country and even before. I have saluted the flag at reveille at the crack of a cold dawn, I have seen my family members wrapped in its soft touch upon their passing, I have seen it worn on the uniforms of our service members around the globe, I have seen coffins of friends draped in it. I know what it symbolizes.
For those in the military, we can be 5,000 miles away from home but seeing that symbol brings us right back to our family’s table at dinner and we remember what we swore an oath to do. Every military member swears that oath, “that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic”. That right of protest comes from the Bill of Rights and includes freedom of speech. Since I swore an oath to protect the Constitution, I have sworn to protect anyone’s right to exercise their liberties. There are no special clauses, there are no “only if” statements, there are no exceptions. That oath is encompassing in its entirety.
So, to the counter-protesters who sought to take away another American’s rights that come directly from the Constitution itself: you are wrong. You are violating this country’s Constitution and you have no right to be the unilateral judge, jury and executioner.
I stand with anyone who chooses to express their right to burn the flag no matter how much it pains me to see it happen. I will honorably serve that oath because that oath will only end when I pass on from this Earth and am myself wrapped in its colors.
Michael Andersen is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and works for Outserve-SLDN, advocating for the LGBTQIA+ members of the U.S. military.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the U.S. government or of any branch of the United States military.