Flag Desecration Amendment Reintroduced; ACLU Vows to Renew Grassroots Campaign Against Measure

March 13, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – As proponents once again reopened their drive to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban desecration of the American flag, the American Civil Liberties Union today joined with veterans and urged members of Congress to reject the proposed amendment once again.

“This issue goes to the heart of what this country and our flag stands for,” said Marvin Johnson, a Legislative Counsel for the ACLU. “The First Amendment is the very foundation of the freedoms the flag represents.”

The amendment has been introduced in various forms for the last 12 years. Contrary to what Senator Orrin Hatch, R-UT, told a news conference today, the margin of support for proposal has been dropping steadily in both the House and Senate. During the 106th Congress, for example, two Senators who had previously supported the amendment – Robert Byrd, D-WV, and Richard Bryan, D-NV – voted against the measure.

If adopted, the constitutional amendment would be the first to restrict the freedoms guaranteed Americans by the Bill of Rights. Since the Bill of Rights was adopted in 1791, the Constitution has been amended only 17 times, and one of those – Prohibition – was a mistake that had to be repealed by yet another constitutional amendment. The Bill of Rights have never themselves been amended.

In recent years, thousands of veterans have contacted the ACLU to register their opposition to the amendment and to offer their help in dispelling the myth that veterans speak with one voice about the proposed amendment. Gary May, a highly decorated former Marine who lost both of his legs during combat in Vietnam, said it best in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last year.

“Freedom is what makes the United States of America strong and great — it is what has kept our democracy strong for more than 200 years,” said May, who serves as the Chairman of Veterans Defending the Bill of Rights, a coalition of veterans who oppose the proposed flag amendment. “The pride and honor veterans like me feel is not in the flag itself, but in the principles the flag stands for and in the people who have defended them.”

Another prominent veteran – General Colin Powell – also opposed the amendment last year. “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 Powell, who now serves as the Secretary of State in the Bush Administration. “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.”

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