ACLU Calls Bush Stance on Flag Amendment Misguided, Says Constitution Must Be Protected from Election-Year Politics

August 31, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Following an announcement by President Bush at an address to the American Legion Convention of his support for a proposed constitutional amendment to ban desecration of the flag, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged lawmakers to reject the divisive measure, the latest of a multitude of proposed constitutional amendments to move this election year.

“It’s disheartening to see politicians seek to limit the rights guaranteed by the Constitution as a prop for their campaigns,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The Constitution should not be amended to restrict rights and freedoms – be it to discriminate, censor, or undermine our criminal justice system – but that is a tactic that we are seeing all too often this election year.”

In his address to the American Legion, President Bush reiterated his support for a constitutional amendment that would give Congress the power to criminalize any “physical desecration” of the American flag.

The proposed Flag Protection Amendment (SJR 4) would overturn U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have rejected laws banning desecration of the flag. Congress has consistently also rejected the proposed amendment. In the current Congress, the House narrowly approved its version of the measure last year; the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the measure in late July.

The amendment now goes to the full Senate, where it has already failed three times. The last time the Senate considered the flag desecration amendment in 2000, it failed by 4 votes.

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. 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. Veterans For Peace, in late July, passed a resolution opposing the amendment.

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 former Joint Chief of Staffs Chairman 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.”

“Our heritage as a free nation demonstrates the importance of preserving the right to dissent,” said Terri Ann Schroeder, an ACLU Legislative Analyst. “Ours is democracy where even the most unpopular views have a right to be heard. This proposed amendment is a legal maze, ripe for misuse and misinterpretation and should be rejected.”

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