I’ve seen a lot of flags waving today.

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And not all of them were American. But that’s OK. Living in the south (about an hour away from Nashville), I wasn’t surprised to see a few Confederate flags (specifically the now-iconic battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia) flying around. And you know what? I’m glad we live in a country where they can do that, even when I don’t support them or the flag they wave.

I would never wave a Confederate flag. To me, there’s nothing more un-American than flying the flag of the Confederacy, a separatist movement that nearly destroyed our entire republic in the defense of an economy based on human bondage. From the get-go, the seceding states were completely transparent in their reasoning for breaking from the Union: to keep the slaves that America now deemed to be unconstitutional in addition to an evil act that had be stopped if America was to move forward.

And we did move forward, thanks to the Union’s victory and the total destruction of slavery as an institution in the United States. Now, it’s often mentioned that the war was fought over the states’ rights (namely their rights to secede and to own slaves). But this is just a strategy, a means to the end of preserving slavery as an institution.

And in the end, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that America, a nation founded on the principles of universal liberty and equality for all human beings, could no longer continue as a nation that abided by slavery. So Abraham Lincoln and many others in the Union continued the difficult process of abolishing the trade, a process that began in the opening days of the revolution.

Progress is a long and difficult process. Enslavement was not something that the Americans invented, but in drafting the constitution of the United States and making steps to end slavery (an atrocity practiced all over the world through human history), we were able to move forward with the American ideal, the idea that everyone is born free and deserves equal protection from oppression. It’s not an ideal that we’ve always lived up to, but we’ve made steps towards it, and to me, that is what the American flag represents: progress.

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Now let me tell you what the flag of the Confederacy represents. To me, it is a symbol of regression. It was created and used by a nation of traitors who felt they had a right to tear the nation apart because they didn’t agree with the president and his platforms, that platform being opposition to the expansion of slavery to the new territories, a platform that, whilst not being overtly abolitionist, was obviously employed to stop the spread of slavery and thus bring us closer to driving it into extinction. The Confederate United States of America was founded on the principles of maintaining the rights to own slaves, and to me, that makes them – and the flag representing them as a “nation” – inherently opposed to the American ideals of liberty, equality and democracy laid out by our constitution.

And whilst it sickens me to see such an unpatriotic symbol re-used in a twisted sense of heritage (that is, a heritage of hatred), I understand that they have their own interpretations of it and their own reasons to wave it, and as an American, I respect that. I have to, or else I’d be a hypocrite in saying I support freedom and oppose oppression whilst simultaneously shutting down the expressions and opinions of others.

Some are surely flying the Confederate battle flag because, to them, it represents state’s rights and they want to express their support for that. Others may wave it because they want to protest the idea that is inherently racist – an opinion that I oppose. Other still will wave it because they are racist. And they have that right. They don’t have the right to oppress or terrorise as a certain shooter recently wormed his way into the news for doing, but as Americans we all have the right to express an opinion within the confines of the law, because universal free speech is one of the most fundamental human rights. Yes, even if it’s an opinion with which you disagree.

As a patriot and an egalitarian, I refuse to wave the Confederate flag for the same reasons I respect others’ right to. Perhaps it’s because I’m an optimist, but the silver lining I find in seeing Confederate flags flown around my town is that I’m glad they have the right to. I’m glad we live in a country where we are free to express an unpopular opinion because that only means I can make this exhausting rant without fear of reprisal and I can wave whatever flag I want.

So please, wave what you want. Wave the Confederate flag if you truly believe in it, so long as you understand that it doesn’t exempt you from criticism. Wave a flag of your own creation or wave the flag of your home country if you’re proud of it. Wave one of the old flags or one of the new flags, or the rainbow flag, since we just made a huge leap forward in recognising equality for all people. It doesn’t matter what you wave because today is independence day, a day where we celebrate the triumph of freedom and equality.

As for me, I’ll stick with Old Glory.

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