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Jayne Lyn Stahl Headshot

"Committing an Offense"

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In a curious reversal of the stereotype of a flag burner, or one we might expect to demonstrate within blocks of a military base, Wednesday's arrest of a mother, in Nebraska, for allowing her 10 year old to "stomp" on an American flag at a soldier's funeral, shows just how much how social profiling is starting to break down.

Aside from being a protester, and mom, Shirley Phelps-Roper is also an attorney, and member of the Westboro Baptist Church, a group that attributes the deaths of American service members as God's punishment for a nation that has become more tolerant of gays and lesbians. Group members have reportedly participated in nearly 300 demonstrations in more than 40 states just in the past two years. (AP)

The arrest took place prior to the funeral services when the police noticed her 10 year old son jumping up and down on the flag. While so-called flag desecration is constitutionally protected by the First Amendment, there are some prominent congressional members on both sides of the aisle who would prefer to change that. According to Nebraska's flag law, "A person commits the offense of mutilating a flag if such person intentionally casts contempt or ridicule upon a flag by mutilating, defacing, defiling, burning, or trampling upon such flag."

The 49-year-old mother faces 90 days in jail, a $500 fine or both for mutilating a flag, and disturbing the peace. On the charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, she could get a year in jail, and be fined twice as much.

Not only is Phelps-Roper a member of Westboro Baptist Church, she's also the daughter of church founder, Rev. Fred Phelps. Not only is she refusing to back down, she says she eagerly awaits the chance to see her day in federal court. While it is difficult to make heroes of those who would just as soon torment a woman on the way into an abortion clinic, or call someone queer, as incite her child to stomp on an American flag, it is reassuring to see the born again ethos spread to include a newfound affection for the constitution.

So, now that the left has found religion, the right has found the First Amendment. Who knows? Maybe "Mother Courage," in 2050, will look more like something out of Ayn Rand than Bertolt Brecht.

Even if the incongruity implied by a member of an ultra conservative group, one that would ban sodomy defending her constitutional right to free speech is vexing, clearly this lawyer mom gets that "committing an offense" on a piece of fabric is not the same as trampling the ideas behind it.

After all, those who conceived the concept of free speech, freedom of assembly, and a free press would have to accept even the most execrable characters, the cross burners. If only those with the moxie to get arrested, and go to court to affirm their right to desecrate a national symbol, will have the courage to acknowledge that the First Amendment, in protecting freedom of expression, affirms diversity, whether it be social, political, or sexual.