I wrote this editorial back in 2007 but decided to re-post it today, as a reminder that as we celebrate our nation's independence from England that we declared our independence to preserve liberty. Preserving liberty often means defending things we personally find offensive.
The picture underneath the headline "Honoring our flag and our veterans" in the November 12 Herald-Times presents an ironic challenge for those who propose a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning, or more broadly, flag desecration. The large picture features several flags being burned, a practice outlined in the U.S. Flag Code regarding how to properly retire a flag.
And yet, if those same flags were burned as part of a political protest criticizing American foreign policy, a flag desecration amendment would make that burning illegal. So what makes a "good" flag burning different from a "bad" flag burning? The answer is simple: whether a flag burning is good or bad - or in the case of a flag desecration amendment, legal or illegal - depends on the motivation and thoughts of the person doing the burning. If the intent is to respectfully retire a flag, you are fine. If the intent is to dishonor the flag, you are on the wrong side of the law.
Despite the argument made by some that a flag desecration amendment would ban conduct rather than speech, the contrast between burning a flag to retire it and burning a flag to disrespect it proves that argument to be false. Clearly, the purpose of a flag desecration amendment is to criminalize a message that many people find offensive. Even if the vast majority of the American people agree that the message is offensive, do we really need to undermine the principles established by the First Amendment by censoring that message?
The beauty of the Bill of Rights is that it was written not to grant rights to the American people, but to make it illegal for government to restrict the rights that our founding fathers assumed we had by nature of being human beings. In fact, when our founding fathers seceded from England, they wrote; "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." The Declaration of Independence goes on to state that the purpose of government is "to secure these rights."
This is why it is such a bad idea to amend the Constitution to restrict the right to dissent against the government, even with an offensive message. A flag desecration amendment would pervert the purpose of the Constitution, which is to limit government, and instead use the highest law in the land to limit the rights of individuals. That has been done only once before, with Prohibition, and the results were less than ideal. That amendment was repealed within a generation.
Let's be honest here. There is no compelling state interest that justifies a constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration. Given the small number of cases annually, this is little more than politicians exploiting patriotism to gain a few votes and attack their opponents. While feelings might be hurt, no one's rights are violated when someone desecrates an American flag. There is no right to not be offended, and political correctness is just as destructive when practiced by the Right as when practiced by the Left.
The American flag does not represent a people or a territory. The American flag represents a set of values that makes this country unique. The United States of America is more than just a nation. America is an idea and a standard of freedom. Limiting political speech, no matter how offensive that speech might be, is a far more serious desecration of the American flag than a childish individual who lights a flag on fire to get attention and make people angry.
Whatever you think about last week's decision on same-sex marriage, we should be very concerned about the direction of the Supreme Court. The real problem we face is not one court decision or another. The real problem we face is that for two generations, the Supreme Court has operated as a super-legislature rather than as a neutral body that interprets the law and the Constitution as written.
We have justices openly talking about public policy during legal arguments. Two especially egregious cases were when Stephen Breyer argued public policy when the court was considering the Fair Housing Act and when Ruth Bader Ginsburg was using public policy arguments to explain why campaign finance regulations should be upheld.
The Supreme Court is not the legislative branch and should not even be considering public policy. The court's only role is to interpret the law and Constitution as written. When the Supreme Court behaves this way, and is allowed to behave this way by Congress and the President, we do not have a Constitutional republic envisioned by the founders of this nation. We have a judicial oligarchy. This means that nothing, including the Bill of Rights, is safe.
We need to demand that the other branches of government restrain the judiciary.
Many who have lived in the dorms at Indiana University can recount horror stories of being woken up in the middle of the night and forced to march outside, regardless of weather, because some joker thought it would be "funny" to pull the fire alarm. One week when I was an undergrad, the fire alarm was pulled three times. By the third time, very few people bothered to leave the building, despite the fact that the law mandated residents evacuate.
But this is not just a problem for students. This is a problem for everyone who lives and pays taxes in Bloomington, and this is something that needs to be considered in the 2015 city election. Examine the following statistics on fire runs and false alarms, courtesy of the City of Bloomington's Fire Department:
2008: 532 fire runs - 321 false alarms
2009: 581 fire runs - 318 false alarms
2010: 619 fire runs - 371 false alarms
2011: 624 fire runs - 362 false alarms
2012: 642 fire runs - 361 false alarms
2013: 657 fire runs - 385 false alarms
2014: 686 fire runs - 360 false alarms
Here is the problem for city taxpayers: When a fire truck is at a false alarm, that fire truck is not available to respond to a legitimate fire, which could increase response time or dilute resources needed to fight a legitimate fire. Fire runs waste gasoline and man hours, as well as putting wear and tear on the vehicles. Any time a large vehicle like a fire truck is called out, there is also an inherent risk associated with that run.
Both the city council and the mayor need to seriously think about this issue and whether Indiana University is paying its fair share given how many resources from the city go to providing fire protection to the campus. IU is exempt from paying property taxes, so it pays an annual fee to the city for fire protection. But is that fee large enough?
The university needs to be a good neighbor as well, and that issue needs to be addressed by both the city council and the mayor in private and in public. This means that the university needs to show it is making a good faith effort to cut down on false alarms, punish students who are caught pulling the alarm fraudulently, and improve security (including the use of security cameras) to prevent false alarm "pranks" from happening.
With the increased focus on city government this year, and no other races on the ballot competing for the voters' attention, now is the perfect time to address this issue.
So why did the horrible massacre in South Carolina happen?
Because human beings are inherently corrupt and wicked, and only through the blood of Jesus Christ can we be saved. We're no better or worse that that evil gunman, and all are equally deserving of God's wrath.
Thankfully, God has provided an escape from the condemnation.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:
Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.
I think we can all agree that "revenge porn" - a subset of non-consensual pornography - is a bad thing that should be stopped. I think we can all agree that the state has a legitimate interest in penalizing those who distribute "revenge porn." But it is just bad policy to make interactive content providers criminally liable for user generated content, as one proposal to criminalize "revenge porn" federally would do.
Think about this for a minute. A massive portion of the web is user-generated content. That is all Facebook and Twitter is - user-generated content. This does not even include comments on news websites and blogs - many of which use Facebook for comments. Congress recognized it was a bad idea to hold interactive content providers responsible for user-generated content in 1996, well before user generated content was as big as it is today. Why can they not see that now? Have they somehow become less informed about the Internet than they were two decades ago?
Might I suggest a more nefarious motive? Congress does not like the "little people" being able to broadcast criticism of them. If you greatly restrict user-generated content and make interactive content providers afraid of the long arm of the federal government, the "Wild West" of the Internet becomes easier to control and manage. Let there be no doubt about it: That is the endgame here.
Could it be that you have knuckleheads who do not understand what they are regulating, or what their regulations would do to the product they want to regulate? I would have believed that twenty years ago. Today? I find that highly implausible. Virtually every elected official from the state level on up has some sort of internet presence - not just a campaign website but a Facebook and Twitter account too. Many are also on Instagram.
So let's strip away the excuses and see this proposal for what it really is. This is not about "revenge porn" at all. This is about nothing more than censoring political speech and criminalizing dissent. Do not be distracted by the low hanging fruit. Always look at the motives and how things like this expand government power.
I said in the press release announcing my candidacy for city council that when it comes to city boards and commissions, if I am elected I will "introduce legislation to mandate that all such meetings take place no earlier than 5:30 p.m."
To me, this is a basic principle of open government. If we are going to have meetings be "open to the public" then the meetings should be held at a time when most people can attend. Holding meetings in the middle of the typical 8 to 5 work day either excludes people from attending altogether or forces them to take benefit time to cover attending a meeting. It places the actions of local government under a cloud of darkness.
This is not acceptable. City government should endeavor to make sure that everything it does is done completely in the public's eye with as much opportunity for the public to observe as possible. The Herald-Times covers city government, but there is only so much time that city reporters can spend at meetings, and they may not cover details that are important to many members of the public. This is not a criticism; it is simply recognition of reality.
This is why making it possible for more eyes to be on city government, especially the eyes of average citizens, should be a top priority for city government. If the work being done by these boards and commissions is important, then there should be no objection to making the meetings completely open to the public at times when the public can attend.
Whether I win or lose, this is something that needs to happen. The citizens of Bloomington should demand that our city government leaders fully embrace transparency by holding meetings when working people can attend them.
This week marks the tenth anniversary of the horrific Kelo vs. City of New London decision, in which the so-called "justices" on the Supreme Court rewrote the Constitution from the bench to allow private developers to use government as a mob enforcer to steal people's property.
The so-called "justices" should have been immediately impeached.
Here are the articles I wrote on this abomination in the summer of 2005:
I issued this press release this past Friday, after I filed my papers.
Today, I filed as a write-in candidate for Bloomington City Council at-large. I believe it is important for people to have as much choice as possible in the election, so without three Republicans on the ballot I am providing my name as a choice for voters unsatisfied with the Democrats on the Bloomington City Council.
There is an obvious question that deserves an answer: I am a Republican, so why am I running as an independent write-in candidate, and not as a Republican?
The answer is that, as the father of a three year old and a one year old, I do not have the time to devote to a full-scale campaign for city council. My primary role right now is to be "daddy" to my sons and husband to my wife of fourteen years. It would not be fair to the Republican Party to have a candidate who is anything less than 100% committed to this race, which I expect would be a time commitment of at least twenty hours per week and probably more.
I am running purely to give voters an option on the November ballot that they would not have otherwise. If the Republican Party fields three at-large candidates in a caucus, or if the Republican and Libertarian parties combine for three or more at-large candidates, I will withdraw my candidacy.
If enough voters express confidence in me and place me on the city council, I will fully devote myself to my role as a city councilor.
A few points on my platform:
# - I will vigorously oppose funding for Planned Parenthood, as I have done as a non-candidate since 1999.
# - My automatic orientation toward allowing development is to vote "yes" by default and allow people to build on their property as they see fit. I assume that property owners know better than I do what is the best use of their land. However, if a development would cause harm, especially to neighbors, I may wind up voting "no" instead. As a city councilor, I may well vote against every rezone or variance request that comes to me depending on what the impact of that development would be. My default position, though, is a position that strongly favors private property rights.
# - I want to see a full and complete public accounting of all property taken by the city police via civil asset forfeiture powers. I believe in due process, and it is required by the constitution. No private property should ever be taken unless someone has been convicted of a crime.
# - I want to see a full and complete public review on the policy for deployment of the Critical Incident Response Team, which is Bloomington's version of a SWAT team. I am deeply concerned about the militarization of police, especially with the deployment of military-style weapons such as highly dangerous flash-bang grenades. The only real way to address this concern is to act locally.
# - The city has a number of boards and commissions that meet during the work day, which excludes working people from being able to fully monitor local government. As a city councilor, I will introduce legislation to mandate that all such meetings take place no earlier than 5:30 p.m.
More information will be coming in the weeks and months to come.
I will be posting news on my campaign here on my personal blog as well as on the campaign site, but for campaign-specific news unrelated to my commentary on politics, culture, sports and so forth, visit http://www.VoteForTibbs.org/.