ACLU Calls Flag Desecration Amendment Assault on Free Speech; Says Measure Fails Very Principles Flag Embodies

May 25, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Noting that free expression and the right to dissent are among the core principles for which the American flag stands, the American Civil Liberties Union today strongly urged Congress to reject the reintroduced Flag Desecration Amendment. The House Judiciary Committee is considering that measure today.

“If we take away the right to dissent – no matter how unpopular – what unpopular freedom will be sacrificed next?” said Terri Ann Schroeder, an ACLU Senior Lobbyist. “The First Amendment must most be protected when it comes to unpopular speech. Failure to do so fails the very notion of freedom of expression.”

The House Judiciary Committee met today to consider H.J.R. 10, the Flag Desecration Amendment, which would allow Congress to criminalize any “physical desecration” of the American flag. It would be the first time the Constitution has been used to restrict freedoms since Prohibition. Proposals to ban flag desecration or burning have been consistently rejected by the Supreme Court and Congress since first introduced in the late 1980s.

Opposition to the amendment remains ideologically broad. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a 1999 letter, “The First Amendment exists to insure that freedom of speech and expression applies not just to that with which we agree or disagree, but also that which we find outrageous.” And, although some prominent veterans groups have endorsed the amendment, a sizeable and growing number of veterans — of all generations and from all major military engagements of the past 90 years — have been vocal in their principled opposition to the bill.

“Free expression, especially the right to dissent with the policies of the government, is one important element — if not the cornerstone — of our form of government that has greatly enhanced the stability, prosperity and strength of our country,” said Gary May, a Vietnam veteran who lost both legs in combat and is chair of Veterans Defending the Bill of Rights, said during a previous Judiciary Committee hearing.

The ACLU noted that flag burning remains an isolated and rare occurrence. Opponents of the measure are also wary of its inevitable consequences, which could, given its imprecise wording, include the waste of tax dollars on unnecessary and politically motivated prosecutions.

The ACLU’s letter urging opposition to the Flag Desecration Amendment can be found at:

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