These principles allow individuals to express their views freely and without retribution, despite how offensive an act is to most Americans, in this case the burning of our flag. More than this, the American flag has been and continues to be a beacon of hope, inspiring my family more than 60 years ago, and countless other families throughout this country’s history, to pursue their American dream.
In 1949, just six months after I was born on the Greek island of Nisyros, my family immigrated to the United States of America. My father, having worked for the Italian government overseeing a lighthouse, alone for 16 years, saved every dollar he could in order to achieve his dream of providing a better life for his family in America.
We settled in New York City, on 135th street in Harlem to be exact. I grew up watching my father take any work he could get to provide for his family. I learned the value of hard work, the importance of family and to follow your dreams no matter how big and unlikely they may seem. To this day, I carry a picture of that lighthouse with me every day to remember my father, his character, and the sacrifices he made for his family.
Following in my father’s footsteps, I went to work at an early age. While I earned my high school diploma at Brooklyn Tech, and then while attending New York University during the day, I worked nights and weekends at Sloan’s supermarket, delivering groceries and on the register. I helped to support my family and saved what I could, because I had a dream of my own.
I dreamed of owning my own business. My ambitions and hard work together with the opportunity and freedom America offers, allowed me to realize that dream. Starting with one grocery store, I built a company with holdings today in the energy, aviation, and real estate sectors, creating over 8,000 jobs. Only in America is this possible.
These Americans who are free to protest and are free to burn the flag of this great nation fail to realize that they ultimately have these rights because this is not a nation of oppression, but the very opposite. This is a nation built on the ideals of freedom and opportunity. This right to burn our beloved flag is the result of a Supreme Court decision in 1989, Texas vs. Johnson.
This ruling states that the act of burning the American flag, although reprehensible to most, is an expression of speech protected by the First Amendment of our Constitution. In yet another twist of irony, during this protest, it was the NYPD that offered protection for protesters being threatened by others who expressed disgust and anger at the burning of the American flag. It was the brave men and women of the NYPD who continued to do their job to serve and protect, despite being the target of the protest.
Justice John Paul Stevens, in his dissenting opinion in Texas vs. Johnson, says that the American flag “is more than a proud symbol of the courage, the determination, and the gifts of nature that transformed 13 fledgling colonies into a world power. It is a symbol of freedom, of equal opportunity, of religious tolerance, and of good will for other peoples who share our aspirations.”
This is what the American flag represents to me and I believe the vast majority of New Yorkers and Americans.
John Catsimatidis was Republican candidate for mayor in 2013 and hosts the Sunday morning political radio show The Cats’ Roundtable from 8:30 to 10 a.m. on 970 AM.