Most people’s immediate reaction is to praise Michelle Manhart for protecting the flag, but that is a purely emotional reaction. Just as many people base their perspective on firearms and firearm law purely on emotion rather than facts and constitutionally protected rights. I personally hold a very strong emotional attachment to the American Flag, I too served under it in the Air Force and it is a symbol of much more that just our government. It symbolizes what it means to be an American.
That being said, the first amendment right of free speech was specifically written to cover the right to speak out against our government without fear of retaliation. Although the American Flag symbolizes much more than just the government, it is a symbol of the government as well. That is why the Supreme Court ruled its desecration as protected free speech and expression. Michelle is no stranger to free expression, not only in modeling for Playboy, but as a PETA model as well, “I’d rather go naked than wear fur.” It is when we allow emotion to interfere with our defense of rights and freedoms, that we infringe upon the rights of others. As a veteran, she should understand better than anyone, the concept of “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” ~ Voltaire
While her heart may have been in the right place and emotionally I completely agree, the fact is that she was squarely in the wrong in the actions that she took. It is easy to recognize a double-standard when you see it. As a red-blooded American male I have much less of a problem with Michelle posing naked than I do with people stomping on the flag, the former can be beautiful and artistic while the latter makes my blood boil. That being said, my personal preferences are irrelevant in regard to people lawfully exercising their constitutionally protected rights. Just as HER preferences do not supersede the rights of those protesting. There are a lot of Americans that would be more appalled by her nude photos than the flag desecration, so it is very much a matter of perspective as to where you come down on the issue. Those differing perspectives can only be fully protected by accepting the universal right of all to freedom of speech and expression, whether we agree or disagree with the message.
In short, although her actions have been applauded by many based on their emotional attachment to the flag, in reality, she was in the wrong and given her own history could easily be viewed as a hypocrit as well, especially as a veteran sworn to uphold and protect the constitutional rights of all Americans. After being arrested and detained, but not charged with anything, Michelle is now banned from VSU grounds. Now she is planning a demonstration of her own. Manhart Plans Demonstration for U.S. Flag, which is how it should have been handled in the first place. A counter-protest to spur discussion of the issues is always preferable to infringing upon the rights of others.