ACLU Warns Against Flag "Protection" Amendment to Constitution; Says Bill Threatens Freedoms Represented By Stars-and-Stripes

May 7, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Saying that free expression and the tolerance of dissent are the very principles for which the American flag stands, the American Civil Liberties Union today strongly urged Congress to reject the recently reintroduced “”Flag Protection Amendment,”” which would, in practice, betray those fundamental ideals.

“”The true beauty of our flag comes not from its design but from its representation of a free society that tolerates all manner of peaceful dissent,”” said Terri Ann Schroeder, an ACLU Legislative Representative. “”Especially in a post-9/11 world, we must not allow our flag to be tarnished by poorly conceived legislation.””

The “”Flag Protection Amendment,”” as it’s being called this time around, would limit the First Amendment to allow Congress to criminalize any physical alteration of the American flag. It would be the first change to the Constitution restricting basic freedoms since Prohibition and one that has been consistently rejected by the Supreme Court and the Congress since proponents began pushing the measure in the late 1980s.

The amendment will be considered today in the House Judiciary Committee’s Constitution Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH).

Opposition to the amendment remains 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.

“”Free expression, especially the right to dissent with the policies of the government, is one important element — if not the cornerstone — of our form of government that has greatly enhanced its stability, prosperity and strength of our country,”” Gary May, a Vietnam veteran who lost both legs in combat to a landmine explosion, said during testimony before the Subcommittee.

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.””

Flag burning remains an isolated and rare occurrence, even with the resurgence in political protest prompted by the war in Iraq. Opponents of the measure are also wary of its inevitable unintended consequences, which could, given its imprecise wording, include the waste of tax dollars on unnecessary and politically motivated prosecutions.

The ACLU special feature on the Flag Desecration
Amendment can be found at:

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