Travesty of Justice

A month or so ago, I wrote a Letter to the Editor concerning an article in the Ravalli Republic (Ravalli County, Montana). The full text of my letter can be seen below. The link will take you to the original article. Since I was allowed only 300 words, I couldn’t respond to the full extent I thought necessary. I will try to do that here.

    (Beginning of letter)

The article at the top of the Nov. 24 issue of the Ravalli Republic reported that Larry Dan Lowry, Stevensville, was sentenced to 29 days in jail and 100 hours community service for burning his neighbor’s flag.

There are a number of things wrong with this whole incident, but I want to mention only one. Keep in mind that I am making my case according to the way the article is written. There may be other relevant facts of which I am not aware.

Nowhere is mention made of any kind of restitution awarded to the owner of the flag in question. Was Lowry ordered to pay compensation for the damage done to his neighbor’s property? He should have been. The neighbor was the one who suffered loss. He was the one Lowry acted aggressively against.

We live in a perverted culture. A man can destroy something owned by another, be incarcerated for 29 days, and have his “debt to society” paid. Yet, Lowry did not commit a crime against some nebulous construct known as society, he committed a crime against a man, his neighbor. Lowry does not “owe” society anything, he owes his neighbor everything. Unfortunately, the victim, his other neighbors, and all the taxpayers of Ravalli County, will now be required to pay to keep a known criminal alive, well fed, and housed for the next month. Where is the justice in that?

Our criminal punishment system is completely out of whack. Restitution to the victim would go a long way to restoring it to sanity. The concept of restitution is at least as old as Exodus 22:6, in which it is stated that “…he who kindled the fire shall surely make restitution.” This is real justice. We need to start thinking that way again.

    (End of letter)

1. According to the article, the neighbor who called the police told them that Lowry was extremely intoxicated. Did the police check this out? Did they notice any visible or apparent intoxication? Did they charge him with public intoxication? If so, what happened to the charge? If not, why not? Public intoxication is not something to be taken lightly, especially when violent and aggressive behavior is involved.

2. The article states that “Lowry was originally charged with a felony charge of desecrating the flag…” This charge was later dropped. I shouldn’t wonder.

a. First, the Supreme Court has held that burning the American flag is a constitutional right. (Texas vs. Johnson, 1989, and also, U.S. vs. Eichorn, 1990) See this website for more information. After the Court made its second ruling, there has never been a serious question about this issue. If it is the law, as it clearly is, then Lowry could not have been convicted of burning or desecrating an American flag. Wisely, the law in Ravalli County decided to drop the charge.

b. Second, the term “desecrate” should not be applied to any action which damages or destroys an American flag, or any other flag for that matter. The word desecrate has reference only to something which is holy or considered sacred, and the American flag is emphatically not holy nor sacred. (For further definition, follow the links.)

There are those who would argue (and probably will) that the flag is indeed sacred, but sacredness involves taking on the attribute of God, Who is holy. As Christians, we are commanded to be holy because God is holy. This is seen in Lev. 11:44, in which God says, “I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” To counteract those who might scream “Old Testament”, I will point to 1 Peter 1:16, in which the Apostle Peter says virtually the same thing. God is holy, people are supposed to be holy, flags are not. It simply doesn’t matter how much someone venerates or is in awe of anything natural or man-made, unless it is God Himself or a person made in His image, it cannot be holy and therefore should not be considered sacred.In fact, I can think of only one other case where we are to keep something other than God or ourselves holy–the Sabbath Day of Rest, (Ex. 20:8) and that is only because God Himself has ordered it. Even then, it is not the Sabbath which is holy so much as it is our actions to keep it that way.

3. God states plainly and clearly in Exodus 20 that we are not to worship anything or anyone except Him and Him alone. “You shall have no other gods before (besides) me. You shall not make any (manufactured) image of anything to worship, bow down to, or serve…” (Ten Commandments, 1 and 2, very loosely paraphrased). Yet, at the end of this article is the statement by none other than the “Justice” who administered “justice” in this case. “I worship that flag,” Bailey said at that original hearing. “I put my life on it.” Wow! Here’s a man who is charged with dispensing justice according to law, who openly proclaims that he values the American flag more than he values the One Who is the Law. This is rank idol worship and, unfortunately for America, Mr. Bailey is not alone. There are literally millions upon millions of people in this country who revere the United States, its flag, and everything that flag stands for, whether it is right and just or not.

Justice, for Mr. Bailey, apparently does not come from God’s Word, but instead from man’s fickle law, in which case it is not justice, but punishment. 29 days of jail time and 100 hours of community service may not a bad idea. At least, Lowry will be sober when he walks out of jail, but this hardly answers the questions I raised above about restitution to the victim, whose flag he burned and the innocent parties who have to pick up the tab.

Far better would have been for Bailey to order Lowry to pay back the value of the flag twice over (for the first offense) and pay all the court costs, including what it cost Stevensville for the police work. This would have made it a very expensive flag, which Lowry would probably not want to pay a second time. In addition, if Lowry really was drunk at the time, Bailey could have ordered him to be jailed for a short, specific time, say two days to sober up and contemplate his situation, with the stern warning that the sentence would be doubled the next time it happened. Furthermore, Bailey could have ordered Lowry to pay the county for the jail time.

Consider the result if my advice or something similar were followed. The man whose flag was burned comes out ahead, the man who burned the flag comes out dramatically poorer and (hopefully) wiser, no taxpayers are nicked for the costs, and justice is served. What could be better? Nothing, absolutely nothing. God’s Law is perfect and cannot be improved upon. When we learn that and implement it, we will all be better off.

6 thoughts on “Travesty of Justice

  1. I would be afraid to charge the man for the value of the flag. Deuteronomy 12: 3 requires no compensation to be paid to the owners of the graven images that we are ordered to destroy. I don’t recall that Abraham paid any fine after destroying his father’s gods. God did indeed tell the children of Israel to establish flags—one for each tribe. Pledging allegiance to these flags was not mentioned. Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, I will continue to refuse to pay homage to a national symbol when the music begins. The only Flag I will honor is a Flag that bears the inscription of Exodus 17: 15: “The Lord is my Banner.” My questions concerning Old Glory remain unanswered. If anyone wishes to answer them publicly, please feel free to do so. Here they are:

    1) Do you acknowledge, according to the definition of the word, that “desecration” can occur only to something that is sacred?
    2) Do you acknowledge, according to the definition of the word, that “sacred” means “of a deity”?
    3) Do you believe that, since the word “desecration” is used to describe the destruction of Old Glory, that Old Glory is indeed sacred, and if so, of which deity is Old Glory?
    4) Does America have a national (G,g)od?
    5) Do you believe that there exist “gods…which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell,” according to Deuteronomy 4: 28?
    6) Do you acknowledge that the word “worship” is accurately described as “acts, expressions and/or a state of religious devotion typically directed to one or more deities?
    7) Can you show me, according to the definitions of “desecration,” “sacred,” and “worship,” where Old Glory is not an object of worship?
    8) When you see the presentation of colors–Old Glory alongside the military flags–do you ever think of the “god of forces” of Daniel 11: 38?
    9) What do you think Jesus, the One Who said, “swear not at all,” in Matthew 5: 34, thought about Peter’s pledge of allegiance in Matthew 26: 33: “Though all [men] shall be offended because of thee, [yet] will I never be offended.”?
    10) What are you going to say if the first question God asks you on Judgment Day is: Did you ever disobey my First Commandment?
    11) And last, but not least, what do you think of Psalms 33: 12, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord”?

  2. Excellent questions, David. Thank you. Answers, anyone?

    In response to your concern raised about restitution made to the man whose flag was burned. We cannot assume that this man “worshipped” the flag or made an idol out of it. All we know is that he owned a flag which was burned.

    People, even you and I, can and do make idols out of anything, but it doesn’t follow that someone else should be able to destroy those idols because they believe it is wrong to have them. For instance, it can be said that young men make idols out of their cars. Young women make idols out of their wardrobes and hair. Someone might make an idol out of his house or job. Someone else might make an idol out of her family or wealth. Talents and abilities. Beauty. Fame. And on and on and on… No one is advocating that these “idols” be removed from society.

    The issue here isn’t whether the flag is an idol which can be destroyed with impunity. Instead, it is about the willful destruction of private property which, according to the Word of God as written down in the Mosaic Code, must be compensated for. Let’s keep in mind that the 8th commandment is still in force, “Thou shalt not steal.” Put another way, it could read “Thou shalt not take anything which belongs to someone else without permission.” It is clearly evident that Lowry “took” something which wasn’t his. Compensation must be made. The Law is clear on this.

  3. Yes, if a member of the tribe of Gad were to destroy a banner that belonged to a member of the tribe of Naphtali, such an act should not go unpunished. I would be interested in knowing how we should reconcile Deuteronomy 12: 3, Exodus 34: 13, etc. with a fetish, and where we should draw the line between a fetish and idolotry.

  4. Let me rephrase your statement to make sure I’ve got it correct. If a member of one tribe destroyed the flag of a member of another tribe, then he should be punished. Does this mean that a member of one tribe can destroy a flag which belongs to someone from his own tribe? Why? How would this relate to modern-day America and the various states?

    Concerning your scripture references, I read these as commands given to the Hebrews as they were about to enter the promised land. The people who were being disposessed were supposed to be slaughtered–men, women, and children, and their items of worship were to be utterly destroyed. Nothing and no one was to be left which could or might draw the Israelites away from their god.

    We are not under those orders. As Christians, we understand that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against spirits, powers, devils, demons, and evil, but not any single individual person or group of people. As Christians, we are supposed to love each other as much as we love ourselves. In this respect, we are to wage war, not with our neighbor, but on his behalf against the spirits which keep him in bondage. One of these spirits might very well be idol worship and that “idol” might be the American flag.

    If, according to the Old Covenant Law, we are still compelled to destroy someone else’s idol, his church, his “holy” things, then we are also ordered to kill him and his family. The two cannot be separated. Since we don’t destroy “unbelievers” this way, then it follows that we are not supposed to destroy their idols either, whether they live in the same state as we do or one on the other side of the country.

    Logically, one could extrapolate this reasoning and conclude that if we are not supposed to destroy our neighbor’s idol physically and unilaterally, then we do not have the authority to destroy it via the ballot box nor can we empower “representatives” to create laws which do the job for us. Democracy cuts both ways and, since we receive what we give, we might find ourselves on the receiving end one day.

    I will be answering your question about fetishes and idolatry a little bit later. Stay tuned.

  5. David, I have to admit that I found it necessary to look up a definition of fetish. This is what I found.

    1. an object regarded with awe as being the embodiment or habitation of a potent spirit or as having magical potency.
    2. any object, idea, etc., eliciting unquestioning reverence, respect, or devotion: to make a fetish of high grades.
    3. Psychology . any object or nongenital part of the body that causes a habitual
    erotic response or fixation.

    I’m not even going to address Def. #3. It’s beneath our attention. The other two, though, are going to warrant some serious investigation.

    1. The first thing I thought of when I read this was the ark or tabernacle of the ancient Hebrews, traipsing through the desert while carrying this on the shoulders of the priests, stopping the flow of the Jordan River, creating fear and dread among the Philistines, inspiring grown men to dance wildly, etc. Is there any doubt that the ark was regarded with awe as the habitation of God and possessing special powers? Question is, did the Israelites idolize the ark or worship the god who inhabited it? I don’t know.

    2. History is replete with examples of objects, ideas, etc. which elicit unquestioning reverence, respect, and devotion. Look at the Catholic Church, for instance, which has made a religion out of fetishes. You could also find something equivalent to this in Protestant Churches, where the cross (without Jesus) is reverenced as much as the one (with Jesus) in Catholicism. Are these fetishes or idols? I don’t have the answer to that.

    Probably the best answer I can give you right now is that man looks at the outward appearance (what seems to be true), but God looks at the heart (what really is true). For myself, I am going to be very careful not to judge someone who might indulge in this sort of behavior. At the same time, I am determined that nothing, no object, idea, etc., will ever be raised in my own mind to the level that it might be considered a fetish or an idol.

    Could my own determination be a fetish? An idol? Perhaps, if I allowed it, which would be easy to do if I forgot Jesus’ words, “I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

    This is a tough issue. I have spent a lot of time thinking, writing, erasing, and editing in order to produce what I have written and I feel it is inadequate. However, it has been good exercise. Thank you for giving me the opportunity.

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