In Defense of Cross Burning

by Edgar J. Steele

May 3, 2003

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
    --  Proverb

Ever known a particularly attractive person who became less and less attractive as you got to know them?  In my misspent youth, I often found myself drawn to one beautiful woman or another.  She would seem, at first, too perfect.  As I got to know her, though, and saw how she treated others, not to mention me, it would become clear that her nose was misshapen or her thighs too fat or her manner ungainly or, perhaps, her facial pores fairly yawned open, until finally I wondered if there was anything about her that physically was attractive.  Yet, I noticed that other men still found these women as attractive as had I at one time.

Now, as the years press on, I still notice pretty girls, but am more readily drawn to the sort of beauty that manifests after the fact of one's initial acquaintance.  It is amazing how many seemingly drab people are, in reality, among the most beautiful, once  afforded the opportunity to unfold their wings and soar.   

I tell my children, in all seriousness, that physical beauty is a curse, because beautiful people glide through life, unchallenged, never needing to develop personality or ethical principles beyond the most mundane.  Singularly unattractive is the former beauty queen on the wrong side of forty, still expecting the world to bow and scrape.

Luckily, I remained single until I was 39, when I was able clearly to see inner beauty, regardless of one's exterior, and somehow persuaded that rarest of females, one with both outer and inner beauty, to marry me.  That was 18 years ago, for those keeping score. 

Finding beauty in the midst of ugliness usually is difficult, but when it comes to Free Speech, that is the order of the day.  You see, it is only unpopular speech, usually of the most despicable sort, that ever causes the censors to unsheath their knives.  Popular speech glides through life, even if oppressive, like a teenage queen.  Witness today's usage of "unpatriotic" and "antisemitic" to silence those whose outlooks are in the highest tradition of America's forefathers.

It is only the most reviled among us, usually reviled precisely due to what they say, that come in for legal lynching in the name of tolerance.  None are more intolerant than those who preach tolerance.  For the rest of us, of course, tolerance is a nonissue, as it should be for all.  And the purveyors of tolerance are among the more admired members of society, too, like those beauty queens who get by without trying.

I often say that the First Amendment is the only one left with any life; even so, it is lying prone and breathing shallowly.  

The other day, the US Supreme Court dealt free speech another mortal blow when it ruled, in Virginia v. Black, that states may outlaw cross burning.  This ruling flies directly in the face of a long line of flag desecration rulings, which hold that flag burning is symbolic speech, thus deserving of First Amendment protection.  So, too, is cross burning a form of symbolic speech, of course.  Why else would one burn a cross, save to make a statement?  Maybe not one with which you agree, but a statement, nonetheless.

Speaking for the Supremes, Justice Clarence Thomas, the only black member of the bench, said, "Just as one cannot burn down someone's house to make a political point and then seek refuge in the First Amendment, those who hate cannot terrorize and intimidate to make their point."  Thus the court advances the frontier of American thought crime yet another notch.  Now, if the perps in this case had burned down another person's cross, I might cede Justice Thomas his point, but the leap of faith required to bridge the logical gap in his statement is simply too terrifying for me to contemplate.

If I don't "hate," can I still burn a cross?  How does one divine my secret thought while performing my symbolic speech?  Is this like saying the N-word, which is okay if you're black, but now a hate crime if you're white?  Can the new law properly be called "Burning while white?"  Talk about racial profiling!

Can I still burn a menorah with evil intent and not expect a trip to slamland?  Since what is being punished is the evil intent, what if I harbor the evilest of intents and burn, say, a lawn chair?  Do I still go to jail?  

Is the swooshing sound we hear that of Justice Thomas and the other Supremes sliding downslope?

I signed an "amicus" brief which was filed in this case with the Supreme Court, arguing against the position they now have adopted.  It was another's writing, which I approved, and which had been hired out by a conservative group, a group which has been noticeably silent since the ruling came out.  They asked me to submit the brief because I am admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.  A nationally-known writer, in all seriousness, suggested that I be disbarred for having dared to submit this brief.

An ardent supporter of free speech, it was an easy call for me to agree to sign my name to a brief supporting cross burning.  And, I would do it again, even though it was apparent at the outset that this was going to be the result.  You see, the court had consolidated two different cases:  in one, whites burned a cross in a black family's back yard and, in the other, whites burned a cross on their own private property.  Clearly, the court was not going to approve the former.  By putting the two cases together, plainly it intended to outlaw the latter.

Few will dispute that cross burning is ugly behavior.  But, it is just the sort of ugliness in which true beauty resides - the beauty of free speech.  Too bad that, as a society, we have yet to mature to the point where we see real beauty regardless of the context.

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I don't know quite what to make of the following:  A bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives to remove the two-term restriction on any single person's occupation of the Oval Office by rescinding Amendment 22 to the Constitution.  It would take, of course, 3 or 4 years to get it past enough states to become effective, so the timing is just right to allow Bush to run for a third term, in 2008, if what he does to get elected in any way can be termed "running," that is.

Are we really this stupid?  I know they think we are, but is the American public actually going to roll over for this one, too?

See for yourself.  Go to:  http://thomas.loc.gov/home/c108query.html  and enter "H.J.Res. 11" in the search box.   You will be provided the following description: "Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to repeal the twenty-second article of amendment, thereby removing the limitation on the number of terms an individual may serve as President."  

The bill was submitted this past January by Representative Jose Serrano (D, NY-16), whose prime agenda is pushing legislation favoring hispanics.  Go to his website:  http://www.house.gov/serrano/legis.htm and look at the list of his current bills, where he has this one mislisted as H.J.Res. 4, and look at the other things he favors.

In one of those odd coincidences of the universe, H.J.Res. 4 actually proposes to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban flag burning.  Predictably, Mr. Serrano has nothing to do with this bill.

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I invite all followers of this list to come hear me speak in person this Spring, first in Evansville, Indiana, at this year's Media Bypass convention on the weekend of May 24/25; also, in Washington, D.C., at the American Free Press/The Barnes Review Conference on the weekend of June 21/22.  Both conferences start the Friday beforehand, but I do not yet have the schedule for either, so cannot say exactly when I will be speaking.

There is a monster lineup for the first, Media Bypass', which includes Scott Ritter, Charles Key, Chris Temple and Clay Douglas, among other notables.  I am honored to be included in such company.  Go here for the on-line instructions for attendance:  http://www.mediabypass.com/EMAIL-NOTICE.html .

To attend the second, one must be a current subscriber to The Barnes Review, a preeminent publication for those who think anything like I do.  The toll free number to call for TBR subscriptions, at $46 yearly, is 1-877-773-9077.  I have yet to see the lineup of speakers and panel discussions, but have no doubt that it will rival that of the Media Bypass convention.

-ed

"I didn't say it would be easy.  I just said it would be the truth."
            - Morpheus

Copyright 2003, Edgar J. Steele

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