This Blog article is dedicated to Colonel Sean McBride (US Marines ret.) and Commander Robert Hill (US Navy ret.) for their service and dedication.
As a lawyer, I am trained to disagree but defend what I hate.
As an American by choice, I always hated those who desecrated the symbol of my freedom, the Old Glory. Much worse, those who violated the funerals and graves of fallen soldiers. In each case, the United States Supreme Court spoke constitutionally. I often comment to my students that political or sociological views are not necessarily constitutional views. Still, Constitutional views may not be sufficiently fluent or even purportedly just for political or sociological views. However, until changed, that document is the basis of our constitutional republic and jurisprudence.
The Law and the Constitution
In Texas v. Johnson, Justice Kennedy, writing the concurrence, spelled out the reasoning of the court that symbolic speech of political nature could be expressed even at the expense of our national symbol. “The hard fact is that sometimes we must make decisions we do not like. We make them because they are right, right in the sense that the law and the Constitution, as we see them, compel the result,” Kennedy wrote.
In Snyder v. Phelps, the court firmly held that speech on public issues is entitled to special protection under the First Amendment. This firm conclusion despite the unimaginable pain caused by the sign that read “Thank God for dead soldiers,” at the funeral of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, killed in the line of duty. In the 8-1 majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts articulated the court’s view “that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.” A principal that we sadly overlook today in our polarized world of social politics.
The United States Constitution as the basis of American jurisprudence is neither liberal nor conservative. It is neither democrat nor republican. As I have, several times during my professional and public career, people who have taken a constitutional oath mostly understand this commitment’s gravity and responsibility.
Salute to Veteran’s
On this Veteran’s Day, I write this short essay to acknowledge the women and men in uniform. I write to recognize their oath and invaluable service to their country. Freedom is not free. Those who assure my freedom to write this article in peace represent less than 1% of the American population. Their respect for the Constitution, their oath, and the symbol of freedom they live and die for are remarkable.
This commitment and respect, particularly for Old Glory, became crystal clear during a recent military retirement ceremony I attended for one of our executive officers for our Navy ROTC program, which I have the honor to oversee here at USC.
At the critical moment of the ceremony, all women and men in uniform stood in perfect crisp coordination. Attention to orders, while a Navy Lieutenant softly held a perfectly folded flag of the United States in his two hands. The other Navy Lieutenant acting as the master of ceremonies, read an essay that I had heard before but never put in the context of the reality when Old Glory is violated. The room was silent as I listened with a few tears in my eyes. My friend and colleague, the retiring commander of the Navy, was in full attention and saluting perhaps one last time in uniform that precious cloth, which he defended for a quarter of a century as a submariner. The Lieutenant read:
“I am the flag of the United States of America. My name is Old Glory. I fly atop the world’s tallest buildings. I stand to watch in America’s halls of justice. I stand guard majestically over great institutions of learning.
I stand guard with the greatest military power in the world. Look up and see me. I stand for peace, honor, truth, and justice. I stand for freedom. I am confident; I am arrogant; I am proud. When I am flown with my fellow banners, my head is a little higher, my colors a little truer. I bow to no one. I am recognized all over the world.
I am worshipped. I am loved, and I am feared. I have fought in every battle of every war for more than 200 years: Gettysburg, Shilo, Appomattox, San Juan Hill, the trenches of France, the Argonne Forest, Anzio, Rome, the beaches of Normandy, Guam, Okinawa, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, in the Persian Gulf and a score of places long forgotten, by all but those who were there with me. I was there.
I led my Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines. I followed them and watched over them. They loved me. I was on a small hill in Iwo Jima. I was dirty, battle-worn, and tired, but my Marines and Sailors cheered me. And I was proud. I have been soiled, burned, torn, and trampled on the streets of countries that I have helped set free. It does not hurt, for I have been soiled, burned, torn, and trampled on the streets of my own country. And when it is by those I have served in battle with, it hurts. But I shall overcome, for I am strong. I have slipped the bonds of earth, and from my vantage point on the moon, I stand watch over the uncharted new frontiers of space.
I have been a silent witness to all of America’s finest hours. But my finest hour comes when I am torn in strips to be used as bandages for my wounded comrades on the field of battle – when I fly at half-mast to honor my Soldiers, my Airman, my Sailors, my Marines, and – when I lie in the trembling arms of a grieving mother, at the graveside of her fallen son or daughter.
I am proud. My name is “Old Glory.” Long may I wave, dear God, long may I wave.”
In conclusion, I will continue to support the right of constitutional expression. I am a lawyer and will always be a lawyer bound by the law and the Constitution. Still, is there not another form of expression other than trashing the one thing that the 1% who defend us value so much?
Frank Vram Zerunyan, JD is a Professor of the Practice of Governance at the Sol Price School of Public Policy and Director of Executive Education at USC Price Bedrosian Center on Governance and The Neely Center for Ethical Leadership and Decision Making, an Interdisciplinary Center USC Marshall USC Viterbi and USC Price (DECIDE), as well as Director of ROTC Programs. His key areas of expertise include Local Governments, Public Private Partnerships, Civic and Ethical Leadership, Land Use, Regulation, Negotiation and Executive Education.
He teaches graduate courses on Intersectoral Leadership (Collaborative Governance), Business and Public Policy, International Issues in Public Policy, Negotiation, Place Institutions and Governance as well as International Laboratory. Frank also lectures locally and globally to build capacity and foster leadership among public executives worldwide. In his capacity as an honorary instructor colonel in the Armenian Army and Air Force, he lectures, coaches and advises on academic affairs at the Vazgen Sargsyan Military University in Armenia. For his influential work over the past five years in Armenia, he was awarded LL.D. Doctor of Laws – Honoris Causa by the Public Administration Academy of the Republic of Armenia.