In recent weeks two stories in America dominated the headlines. At first they might seem unrelated, but closer examination reveals a few philosophical connections. The two topics of which I speak are the controversy over the Confederate flag and the Supreme Court ruling about marriage equality. Let’s take a look, shall we?
In the wake of the tragic shootings of nine people in a black church in South Carolina, public attention was once again directed towards a symbol that many feel represents hatred, oppression, slavery and treason: the Confederate flag. There is no end to the disagreements about the origins and history of this flag, and certainly a great deal of misinformation is flying around the internet. Two things, however, are painfully clear and cannot be disputed:
“Our idea is simply to combine the present battle-flag with a pure white standard sheet; our Southern Cross, blue on a red field, to take the place on the white flag that is occupied by the blue union in the old United States flag, or the St. George’s cross in the British flag. As a people, we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.“
For the many who claim that the flag does not or never represented a racist viewpoint, I think the argument stops here. Regardless of the current racial perspective of anyone who flies the flag today, there is no denying it’s original intentions.
2. The Confederate Flag was the symbol of the Confederacy of states that attempted through a very violent war to secede from the union of the United States of America which can only be defined as treason.
So how does the Confederate flag relate to marriage equality? Take a gander at the two memes below:
The topic of this conversation is tolerance and moderation. Allow me to analyze the false comparisons projected in the messages above.
To suggest that support of the Confederate flag is akin to supporting gay marriage and that if the symbol of the first is to be banned, the symbol of the second should be banned as well is a terribly false analogy (and yes, I realize the rainbow flag represents more than just marriage equality). The Confederate flag represents hatred, intolerance and division. The rainbow flag represents love, tolerance and unity. Moreover, the Confederate flag is currently flying over a government building (the state capital of South Carolina, to be precise) while no one at all is suggesting that the rainbow flag be displayed publicly or officially.
Setting all of this aside, let me get to the heart of my point. I’m not suggesting that the Confederate flag be “banned” from display privately. In fact, certain actions from the private sector have probably (as if often the case in controversial issues) gone too far. The television network TV Land recently cancelled all episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard and retailers like Amazon and Wal-Mart have stopped selling the flags and other related merchandise. Humans too often react quickly and severely to events without thoroughly considering their actions.
Under the First Amendment the citizens of America should, within reason, have latitude to display symbols that reflect their attitudes and beliefs, even if those beliefs are ignorant and hateful. However, I would ask that those folks who wish to fly the Confederate flag consider the message that is being received by many; namely that it represents a dark time in our nations history and is offensive to many. Is it really necessary to broadcast this to the world? Is taking down a symbol of slavery from a state capital building really such a bad thing? Also, is the rainbow flag, or more specifically gay marriage really harming anyone? Opposition to a symbol of hatred and cruelty is justifiable. Opposition to a flag that represents the desire for certain people to be treated fairly is questionable at best.
Perhaps it’s time for us as a nation to just step back from both of these issues and ask if these are valid reasons for dividing us. Can we not accept that marriage between two people who love each other and want to make a legally and spiritually binding committment to each other, regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation or any other characteristic is tolerable? Can we also not accept that while no flag other than official state or federal flags should fly over government buildings, the public display of other symbols, regardless of their intent, should be allowed? Can we not find common ground and put these matters to rest?
I think in all sides of these matters, there are those who feel that somehow, in some way, their “freedoms” are being restricted by others who hold opposing views. Humans will never fully agree on all matters. Our individual nature seems to prevent that. But we also have the capacity to accept our differences and disagreements and still co-exist peacefully. Let’s try to find that tolerance and serenity now. Perhaps we should take wisdom from the Wiccan Rede: And it harm none, do as thou wilt.