'Veterans Defending the Bill of Rights' Letter to the House Urging Opposition to H.J. Res. 4, the Flag Desecration Constitutional Amendment

May 2, 2003

Veterans Defending the Bill of Rights 

Dear Representative:

My name is Gary May and I am writing to you today as the chair of a group called Veterans Defending the Bill of Rights to urge you to oppose H.J. Res. 4, the flag desecration constitutional amendment. I know you hear from many veterans who support this amendment, but you should also know that there are many veterans that have faithfully served our nation who strongly believe that amending the Constitution to ban flag desecration is the antithesis of what they fought to preserve.

I lost both of my legs in combat while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam. Ichallenge anyone to find someone who loves this country, its people and what it stands for more than I. It offends me when I see the flag burned or treated disrespectfully. But, as offensive and painful as this is, I still believe that those dissenting voices need to be heard. 

This country is unique and special because the minority, the unpopular, the dissident also have a voice. The freedom of expression, even when it hurts the most, is the truest test of our dedication to the principles that our flag represents. 

In addition to my military combat experience, I have been involved in veterans' affairs as a clinical social worker, program manager, board member of numerous veterans organizations, and advocated on their behalf since 1974. Through all of my work in veterans' affairs, I have yet to hear a veteran say that his or her service and sacrifice was in pursuit of protecting the flag. 

When confronted with the horrific demands of combat, the simple fact is that most of us fought to stay alive. The pride and honor we feel is not in the flag per se. It's in the principles that it stands for and the people who have defended them. 

I am grateful for the many heroes of our country. All the sacrifices of those who went before us would be for naught, if an amendment were added to the Constitution that cut back on our First Amendment rights for the first time in the history of our great nation. I write to you today to attest to the fact that many veterans do not wish to exchange fought-for freedoms for protecting a tangible object.

To illustrate my point, here is what some of the Veterans Defending the Bill of Rights have said about this amendment

  • "Ultimately, Americans and our representatives on Capitol Hill must realize that when a flag goes up in flames, only multi-colored cloth is destroyed.  If our freedoms are lost, the true fabric of our nation is frayed and weakened."
    -Bill McCloskey, Bethesda, Maryland, served in the Vietnam War and was awarded the Army Commendation Medal.
  • "My military service was not about protecting the flag; it was about protecting the freedoms behind it.  The flag amendment curtails free speech and expression in a way that should frighten us all."
    -Brady Bustany, West Hollywood, California, served in the Air Force during the Gulf War.
  • "The first amendment to our constitution is the simplest and clearest official guarantee of freedom ever made by a sovereign people to itself.  The so-called 'flag protection amendment' would be a bureaucratic hamstringing of a noble act.  Let us reject in the name of liberty for which so many have sacrificed, the call to ban flag desecration.  Let us, rather, allow the first amendment, untrammeled and unfettered by this proposed constitutional red tape, to continue be the same guarantor of our liberty for the next two centuries (at least) that is has been for the last two."
    -State Delegate John Doyle (West Virginia) served as an infantry officer in Vietnam.
  • "It is disheartening to hear politicians arguing that they must restrict our right to engage in political protest when we GIs fought against regimes that stripped their citizens of those very same rights and then used their totalitarian powers to commit some of the most horrific acts imaginable."
    -Mr. Tom E. Moses served as an Army paratrooper during the liberation of France in the Second World War.
  • "The flag is not a sacred object.  To regard it as such would be an affront to all religious persons."
    -Mr. Steve Gerriston, Bothell, Washington, is an Air Force veteran
  • "I know of no American veteran who put his or her life on the line to protect the sanctity of the flag.  That was not why we fulfilled our patriotic duty.  We did so and still do to protect our country and our way of life and to ensure that our children enjoy the same freedoms for which we fought."
    -Jack J. Heyman, Ft. Myers Beach, Florida. served in the Korean War.   Mr. Heyman's great grandfather was a Pennsylvania regular during the Civil War;  his father served in the Navy during World War I; his brother fought in WWII; and one of his children served in the Army following the Vietnam War.

I hope you will join me and the Veterans Defending the Bill of Rights in opposing H.J. Res. 4, the flag desecration constitutional amendment.

Sincerely,

Gary E. May
Chair
Veterans Defending the Bill of Rights

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