For more than a decade, numerous members of Congress have tried to amend -- with seemingly endless resources -- the U.S. Constitution to give the government the power to prohibit the physical desecration of the American flag. Civil libertarians have fought back hard with coalitions of veterans, religious leaders and other Americans who believe that such a constitutional amendment would undermine the very principles for which the American flag stands.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has strongly opposed the proposed 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," he said. "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."
While our fight against the proposed amendment has begun to make some headway in recent years, the margins of our victories remain precariously thin. Supporters of the amendment continue to spend millions of dollars on lobbying candidates and members of Congress.
Now, Senate leaders are taking advantage of several Senators' absence due to presidential campaigns, sickness or the aftermath of Hurricane Frances to slip this amendment through.
Protect the Constitution!
The proposed constitutional amendment would do irreparable violence to our right to free speech and undermine the very principles for which the American flag stands. Those who favor the proposed amendment say they do so in honor of the flag. But in proposing to unravel the First Amendment, they desecrate what the flag represents, and what millions of Americans have died to defend.
Jailing protesters is common under authoritarian regimes, not in America. Two young protestors in Hong Kong were arrested for burning the Chinese flag after mainland China took over control of the island nation. Cuban courts commonly jail dissidents who "dishonor" the Cuban flag. While jailing protestors might be common in totalitarian regimes, Americans expect - and indeed have put their lives on their line - to insure that our right to free speech is not abridged.
Flag burning or desecration is an extremely rare occurrence. Very few incidents of flag burning have been reported in the entire history of the United States. A person is more likely to be struck by lightning or win the lottery than to be exposed to a political flag burning. The proposed constitutional amendment is, therefore, the very definition of a solution in search of a problem.