ACLU Calls on House to Reject Flag Desecration Amendment: This Session May Mark Closest Congressional Vote Yet on Measure

June 21, 2005 12:00 am

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Urge your members of Congress to Oppose the Flag Desecration Amendment!

WASHINGTON – The Flag Desecration Amendment is introduced nearly every session of Congress, but the vote this session may be the closest yet. Noting that free expression and the right to dissent are among the core principles the flag should represent, the American Civil Liberties Union today called upon the House of Representatives to reject the amendment. That proposal, which would amend the Constitution to restrict the First Amendment’s protections for the first time, is scheduled for a vote on Wednesday.

“Freedom of expression must protect all forms of dissent, no matter how unpopular,” said Terri Ann Schroeder, Senior Lobbyist with the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Failure to do so undermines the very notion of the First Amendment. If lawmakers amend the Constitution to silence dissent, they disrespect the very freedoms that so many have fought to protect.”

The House will be considering 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, and polls have shown the public has grown increasingly wary of the notion.

The ACLU pointed to a survey released in early June by the First Amendment Center, in which 63 percent of those polled said that the Constitution “should not be amended to prohibit burning or desecrating the American flag.” This number was 10 percentage points higher than the same survey conducted last year. The same survey found that support for the amendment dropped from 45 percent last year to 35 percent this year.

Opposition to this amendment has also come from unlikely sources: Former Secretary of State and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin L. Powell, former Senator John Glenn, and former Reagan Defense Department official Lawrence J. Korb, have all spoken out against the proposal. Powell said in a 1999 letter, “The First Amendment exists to ensure 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 opposition to the bill.

“Flag burning itself remains an isolated and rare occurrence,” Schroeder said. “There are much more important issues to address, like the war, the Patriot Act and government torture of detainees. Lawmakers should stop playing political football with the Constitution.”

For more on the ACLU’s concerns with the Flag Desecration Amendment, go to: /flag

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