Ignoring Voices of Veterans, Religious Leaders Congress Marches Toward Passage of Flag Amendment

April 20, 1999 12:00 am

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Tuesday, April 20, 1999

WASHINGTON — Congress continued its coordinated march toward passage of the “Flag Desecration Constitutional Amendment” today, with a Senate panel hearing testimony from a veteran and minister who oppose the proposed amendment.

Today’s hearing comes on the heels of House action on the amendment last week. It will be quickly followed by a series of Senate committee votes starting tomorrow and continuing into next week.

The constitutional amendment, SJ Res 14, would allow the prosecution of protestors, artists, and others who “desecrate” the American flag. The vague term “desecration” could encompass a broad range of actions, said the American Civil Liberties Union, including flying one’s own American flag upside down.

“Now, almost 31 years to the day following the loss of my legs in combat, I am again called upon to defend the freedoms which my sacrifices in combat were said to preserve,” Gary May, a highly decorated former Marine, said in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee today.

“Freedom is what makes the United States of America strong and great – it is what has kept our democracy strong for more than 200 years,” May said. “The pride and honor veterans like me feel is not in the flag itself, but in the principles the flag stands for and in the people who have defended them.”

Terri Schroeder, a legislative analyst for the ACLU, concurred. “By allowing the criminalization of symbolic acts such as flying flags upside down, Congress endangers the very values our American flag represents – the value of liberty and justice for all,” she said.

“Proponents of this constitutional amendment downplay their actions, saying they only want protestors to receive tickets and go to flag education classes,” Schroeder said. “Yet they can’t deny that states currently have laws allowing the arrest and imprisonment of people who ‘desecrate’ the flag, and that those laws will become enforceable the moment this amendment becomes part of our Constitution.”

Also testifying against the amendment today was Reverend Nathan Wilson, director of the West Virginia Council of Churches. More than one-third of the population of West Virginia belongs to a church that is a member of the Council.

Reverend Wilson explained that the proposed amendment misuses religious terms and effectively declares the American flag a holy object, thereby mandating idolatry.

“The flag is a treasured symbol of the democracy, liberty and equality found in the United States of America, but the flag is not sacred,” Wilson said.

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