Teens speak out at Boys State
By Cyntra Brown
In a room filled with teens wearing “Boys State” T-shirts and khakis, Josh Grahl walked onto the stage, notecards in hand, ready to woo the judges and audience.
No cheering, no chants, just silence and the attention of 275 boys.
Grahl, along with Alex Karston and James Lawson, was chosen to present oratories on whether flag burning should be illegal.
Grahl was adamant that the American flag is a “worthy symbol of America.” He said the flag bonds together the people of our nation, representing “justice, liberty and happiness.”
He wanted to make sure the audience understood when “we salute the flag, we’re saluting the men who sacrificed for our country.”
“We’re not just saluting a piece of cloth.” Grahl said.
Grahl went on to say with so many opportunities to voice our opinions, we don’t have to go to the extreme of burning a flag.
He labeled the act as “terribly dangerous,” saying its end result could destroy the principles our nation stand for.
“You don’t burn your neighbor’s flag if you don’t like their politics.” Grahl said.
He said the flag had risen in many historic events, such as Iwo Jima, the first man on the moon, the defeats of Mussolini and Hitler, and these events should not be desecrated and overlooked.
The “respect and honor of the flag is up to you and me,” Grahl said. He mentioned that we should preserve that nation’s character for future generations.
He described the American flag as a patchwork quilt, representing all the diversity the nation has to offer.
“Without patriotism,” Grahl said, “it would be a pile of shredded cloth.”
James Lawson began with a quote from Texas v. Johnson: “America, the red, white and blue, we spit on you.”
Lawson went on the tell the story of Gregory Johnson, who after speaking those words, was sentenced to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. Johnson was later released when the conviction was overturned.
Lawson said “something needed to be done” about the issue of desecrating the flag. He spoke about how many times the amendment has been brought before the House. He also noted this “one line of text has divided the House for generations.”
“One thing that makes this country great is freedom of speech,” Lawson said.
He said if everyone was thrown in jail when they criticized the government, the “streets would be empty.”
Lawson feels it “un-American” to punish people who don’t share your point of view. People who destroy the flag are destroying a symbol and nothing more.
He noted Thomas Jefferson and James Madison wanted strict punishment for those who destroyed the flag.
“Why go against the wishes of those who wrote the constitution?” Lawson asked.
Lawson said a democracy gives everyone a say. It represents the hopes, dreams and inspiration of the people.
“Burning the flag is not a form of free speech,” Lawson declared.
The final speaker, Alex Karston, received an assuring “thumbs-up” from the crowd as he started his speech.
Also using Texas v. Johnson, Karston noted the case makes it unconstitutional to make a law against flag burning. Karston said Congress has been trying to pass an amendment since 1995, and if they do, they would “symbolically be saying that values are more important than the symbols.”
The flag, in Karston’s opinion, stands for justice, freedom and democracy. He said freedom of expression is what makes us a “powerful country.”
“Veterans didn’t fight for our flag, but our country,” Karston said.
He said if we allowed the amendment to pass, we wouldn’t be protecting our flag, but removing it from the pole and putting it in a display case.
He said allowing different viewpoints is what makes the country so great. If those rights begin to be taken away, “how are we different from other countries?” Karston asked.
Karston said he believes rights protect symbolic speech.
“From the mountains of communism to the jungles of Vietnam everyone has a right to defend themselves,” Karston said.
With rounds of applause and numerous standing ovations, all three participants left the stage.
Each speaker had between eight and 10 minutes to make his point and would be penalized if they used more or less time. With each participant in the eight minute range, a counselor noted that it was the “most competitive year they’ve had.”
The judges will critique the young men on the quality of their speeches, cohesiveness, tone and the emotional capacity of the speeches. No one will know the results of the competition until the graduation ceremony.
After a break, Boys State Governor Thomas Nailen took the stage to talk about the status of the “state” and new budget.
Boys State Director Charlie Cleary said the Boys State budget was almost the same as North Carolina’s.
“They’re facing all the problems Perdue is,” Cleary said.
Nailen began his speech by announcing $70 million worth of gold had been discovered in Gold Hill during a mining expedition.
He also made the public aware the legal drinking age is now 18 and that there is a law against texting while driving.
He thanked everyone who helped create the budget. Nailen said the budget for the new state would be almost $10 million.
“Tax money will not be abused,” Nailen stated.
He ended his speech telling his peers they only had “one day left to learn all we can.”
He said he hopes when the members return home, they will become active in their governments.During the event, the delegates were busy participating in moot courts, writing bills, and working on a presentation for the “state olympics.”
Some participants had the opportunity to take an abbreviated version of the bar exam. When they passed, they represented their clients in moot court cases that had the possibility of going to the supreme court.
Cleary said his favorite part is meeting the new leaders of tomorrow.
“They’re all going to be doing big things.” Cleary said.
The cities in Boys State were named after ex-governors, such as Jim Hunt and Jim Martin, some of whom had participated in Boys State themselves.
Cleary said at the end of the week, the Legion will pick two delegates to represent North Carolina in Boys Nation. The delegates will be flown to Washington for a week. Among their adventures will be meeting the president and participating in government activities.