Why don't patriots desecrate the U.S. flag? The question occurred to me while listening to a taped-book edition of Will Durant's multi-volume treatise, The Reformation. I was fascinated to hear how early Protestants—people about as devout as they come—raged through Catholic churches smashing crucifixes, saintly images, and statues of the Virgin Mary. They did so in protest against idolatry, which they regarded as a distraction from the Word of God.
Hence my question: Why don't patriots similarly burn the flag and other symbols of the U.S. government as a means of protesting statist idolatry? Granted, some people do burn the U.S. flag with the claim that they mean to express their profound concern about this or that policy, and so forth. I respect those dissidents and am willing to take their claims of patriotism at face value. But I here have more traditional patriots in mind—the sort who would rush to the bulwarks to defend their country, who hold the Framers in high regard, and who carry pocket-sized copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Those ardent patriots tend to venerate the U.S. flag. Indeed, they nearly worship it. Perhaps they shouldn't, though. Perhaps, like the early Protestants, they ought to object that idolatry, empty words, and ceremony have supplanted devotion the principles that gave birth to our constitutional republic. Perhaps, like the early Protestants, those who really believe in the U.S. government ought to symbolize their dissent by burning the flag, espousing the plain meaning of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and demonstrating against such pomp as the inauguration of the President or children's recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
The suggesting parallels between the origins of Protestantism and a possible "patriotic reformation" do not end there. Perhaps those who believe in the our constitutional republic should also follow the Protestants in excoriating the hypocrisy of leaders who do no more than mouth the words of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The Protestant reformists reasoned that they had just as much authority to interpret the Bible as any Papal authority in Rome. Might not a reformation patriot make a similar claim about the Supreme Court's authority to interpret the founding documents of the U.S. government? The Protestants objected that layer upon layer of precedents have moved the official interpretation of Bible far, far from the plain import of its words. A good patriot could easily say the same of the Supreme Court's work.
By separating Christianity from the Church, the Protestant Reformation ultimately separating the Church from the State. Too easily we forget that the Pope once claimed authority over kings—and that he backed his claim with fearsome armies funded by far-reaching taxes. What would a modern day Reformation, a patriotic one, achieve? The historical parallel suggests that it might separate the proper functions of government—securing individual liberties and providing public goods—from any single, central, monopolistic institution of governance. A patriotic reformation might, in other words, separate the Law from the State.