ACLU Calls Flag "Protection" Amendment Antithetical to Freedom

March 10, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – As the Senate Judiciary Committee convened a hearing to consider a proposal that would write censorship into the U.S. Constitution, the American Civil Liberties Union today strongly urged Senators to reject the recently reintroduced constitutional amendment to ban desecration of the flag. The proposal, which has been condemned by veterans groups and leaders of every ideological stripe, would betray the very principles of free expression and tolerance of dissent for which the flag stands.

“”This measure would amend the First Amendment for the first time,”” said Terri Ann Schroeder, an ACLU Legislative Analyst. “”As individuals, we are free to condemn those that would deface the flag, but censorship has no place in the Constitution. Now more than ever we must ensure that the very freedoms our soldiers are fighting for in Iraq and Afghanistan are preserved here at home.””

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 has rejected laws banning desecration of the flag; Congress has consistently rejected proposed constitutional amendments since the late 1980s.

Exactly one week ago, the same Senate Committee considered yet another proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution to deny the right to marry to lesbians and gay men. The ACLU noted that only 17 amendments to the Constitution have been adopted by Congress and ratified by the states since the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1791.

Opposition to the flag amendment is ideologically broad, with conservatives, moderates and liberals fearful of the long-term 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 testified today before the Senate committee. “”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 Gary May’s testimony, or to read more on the ACLU’s opposition to the Amendment, go to:

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