Flag Amendment Vote Falls Short of Proponents' Expectations; Post 9-11 Environment Does Not Boost Measure's Support

June 3, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Although falling short of proponents’ expectations, the House of Representatives today once again voted to revise the First Amendment to the Constitution to allow Congress to ban “desecration” of the American flag. The amendment received only 10 votes more than the two-thirds majority required for passage of a constitutional amendment.

“It’s proponents said that the patriotic fever sweeping the nation in the post 9-11 environment would lead to a landslide victory for the amendment,” said Terri Schroeder, an ACLU Legislative Analyst. “But what we saw was a status quo vote that suggests that there is no great desire to adopt a constitutional amendment that would betray the very ideals for which the flag flies.”

The so-called Flag “Protection” Amendment was debated this afternoon in the House and was passed by a vote of 300 to125.

Gary May, a combat veteran who lost both his legs in Vietnam and who serves as chair of Veterans Defending the Bill of Rights, a group that opposes the amendment, expressed the concerns of many veterans from across the country when he told a congressional committee: “Freedom of speech and 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.”

John Glenn, former Democratic Senator from Ohio and American hero, also opposes the amendment: “Those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, who died following that banner did not give up their lives for a red, white and blue piece of cloth,” he said. “They died because they went into harm’s way representing this country and because of their allegiance to the values, the rights and principles represented by that flag and to the Republic for which it stands.”

Notable figures in the Bush Administration have also expressed opposition to the amendment. “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,” said retired general and current Secretary of State Colin Powell in a 1999 letter. “I would not amend that great shield of democracy to hammer a few miscreants. The flag will be flying proudly long after they have slunk away.”

A vote in the Senate on the amendment is expected next session.

More information on the flag “protection” amendment can be found at:

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