Flag Desecration Amendment Marked Up in House Judiciary; ACLU Urges Opposition, Says American Strength Based in Tolerance

June 20, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – With the perennial flag “desecration” amendment set for yet another floor vote as early as next week, the American Civil Liberties Union is again urging lawmakers to oppose the misguided and dangerous proposal.

“The Stars-and-Stripes is the third oldest flag on Earth,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, Associate Director of the ACLU’s Washington National Office. “It is not the arcane symbol of a dead and bankrupt nation for one simple reason: the Constitution for which it flies demands that its value rest in the principals of free expression and tolerance for dissent rather than protection of its graphic design.”

The House Judiciary Committee voted today in support of the amendment, sending it to the full House for a floor vote as early as next week.

Were it to pass, the flag amendment (HJ Res. 36) would be the first ever modification of the Bill of Rights. The proposed legislation would essentially place a limitation on First Amendment freedoms, making it legal for the federal government to impose and enforce a ban on any physical mistreatment of the American flag.

“The Bill of Rights was designed to protect the voices of the few from the intolerance of the majority,” Nojeim said. “Very little can justify its modification, least of all some imaginary epidemic of flag burning.”

The amendment has appeared in Congress several times over the past 12 years, provoking intense debate each time. But in recent years, the amendment’s margin of support has declined and several lawmakers have, in fact, repudiated their earlier support for the amendment and have become some of its most vigorous opponents. During the 106th Congress, for example, Sens. Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Richard Bryan (D-NV) changed their positions and opposed the amendment. Earlier, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also switched his position and now helps lead the effort to stop the amendment in Congress.

In recent years, thousands of veterans have also contacted the ACLU to express their disapproval of the amendment and to discount the common (and false) contention that all American veterans support a ban on flag desecration. Indeed, a number of very high-profile veterans have spoken out against the amendment, including former Senator John Glenn and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

“The United States is the paramount world power and a reservoir of liberty because it is willing to abide the most noxious, but non-violent, protest,” Nojeim said. “Our strength lies not in the physical integrity of our flag but in our collective tolerance of dissent. We urge Congress once again to allow us to remain strong.”

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