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. http://civilliberty.about.com/od/freespeech/p/flagburning.htm 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 vererates 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.