The Senate is proposing a constitutional amendment to prohibit blasphemy — that is, flag-burning, blasphemy against the one true all-American faith, “our nation and its values.” The Washington Post reports:
Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) cast the debate in loftier terms. “Many Americans have come to see the flag as a sacred symbol of our nation and its values,” he said. “Those who dislike American values have the right to express their opinions even when they are offensive. But I do not believe that the right to desecrate a symbol like our flag belongs in the same category.”
I read that shortly after reading this passage from John Lukacs’s The End of the Twentieth Century and the End of the Modern World:
The great threat to religious faith in our time (more precisely, to the quality and meaning of faith) is populist nationalism. The democratization of the churches has led to that; but that is only a secondary consequence, inseparable from the democratization of entire societies. The primary element is simpler, and more important. It is that the religion of the nation, the sentimental symbols of the nation, are more powerful than religious faith, especially when they are commingled. Nationalism, I repeat, is the only popular religio (religio: binding belief) [legally binding, if Frist and the Republicans get their way — DM] in our times.
… When in the 1950s I asked my then orthodox and rigidly catechized American Catholic students, “Are you an American who happens to be a Catholic, or are you a Catholic who happens to be an American?” all of them chose the former, not the latter.