Senate Panel Approves Flag Constitutional Amendment; ACLU Calls for Senators To Reject Censorship in the Constitution

July 20, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee today once again approved a proposed constitutional amendment to ban desecration of the flag, setting up yet another vote on this misguided measure that would write censorship into the U.S. Constitution. The American Civil Liberties Union urged all senators to reject the divisive measure, the latest of a multitude of proposed constitutional amendments to move this election year.

“The strength of America lies in our ability to welcome all viewpoints – even those that we strongly disagree with,” said Terri Ann Schroeder, an ACLU Legislative Analyst. “This proposed amendment is a legal maze, ripe for misuse, misinterpretation and confusion and should be rejected.”

The “Flag Protection Amendment” (S.J. Res. 4) would amend the Constitution to give Congress the power to criminalize any “physical desecration” of the American flag. The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected laws banning desecration of the flag; Congress has consistently rejected proposed constitutional amendments since 1990. The House had narrowly approved its version of the measure last year.

The amendment now goes to the full Senate, where it has already failed three times since first appearing on the Senate floor in the summer of 1990. The last time the Senate considered the flag desecration amendment in 2000, it failed by 4 votes. At that time, two Senators, including Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Richard Bryan of Nevada, switched their positions and joined with 35 of their colleagues to defeat it.

Opposition to the flag amendment is ideologically broad, with conservatives, moderates and progressives fearful of the implications for basic American freedoms if the amendment were ratified. 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.

“Preservation of the freedom of dissent — even if it means using revered icons of this democracy — is what helps me understand losing my legs,” said Gary May, a Vietnam veteran who lost both of his legs in a landmine explosion. “Free expression, especially the right to dissent with the policies of the government, is one important element — if not the cornerstone — of the democracy that has greatly enhanced our country’s stability, prosperity and strength.”

Notable figures in the Bush Administration have also expressed support for maintaining the integrity of American constitutional freedoms. “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.”

To read more on veterans who are in opposition to the Amendment, go to:

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