Senate Effort to Amend the Bill of Rights in Final Stages

April 29, 1999 12:00 am

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Thursday, April 29, 1999

WASHINGTON — The Senate took its final committee action on the proposed “Flag Desecration Constitutional Amendment” today, just one day after hearing testimony from John Glenn, who urged Senators to reject the measure.

“It would be a hollow victory indeed if we preserved the symbol of our freedoms by chipping away at those fundamental freedoms themselves,” Glenn said. “Let the flag fully represent all the freedoms spelled out in the Bill of Rights, not a partial, watered-down version.”

Today’s 11-7 vote by the Judiciary Committee allows the full Senate to vote on the amendment at any time. Senate leaders have announced they will seek a vote before Memorial Day. If passed, the measure would be the first restriction placed on the First Amendment, which has protected Americans’ right to criticize their government for more than 200 years, said the American Civil Liberties Union.

“This constitutional amendment is nothing more than a solution in search of a problem,” said Terri Schroeder, an ACLU legislative analyst. “Most of the ‘desecrations’ chronicled by the amendment’s proponents are already punishable under existing laws. There is no reason to weaken our fundamental First Amendment protections for the handful of remaining acts.”

In addition to former Senator and Korean war veteran John Glenn, yesterday’s hearing included testimony from decorated veterans and Senators Kerrey (D-NE) and Chafee (R-RI), who oppose the constitutional amendment.

“Amendment supporters say that unless we place a constitutional limit on speech and expression the fabric of our nation will be threatened,” Glenn said. “I think there is only one way to weaken the fabric of our country, and that is to allow a few misguided souls to lessen the freedom that we all share.”

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