The Constitution Desecration Amendment
(Printed in The Towanda Daily Review on 6/18/97.)
The House recently passed a proposed constitutional amendment with a vote of 310 to 114. I find it incredible that 310 (not yet including the Senate) of our elected officials want to modify the First Amendment to include idolatry so that they would then be able to pass nebulous laws against the rarely practiced non-issue of flag burning. Previous attempts of a similar amendment failed in 1990 and 1995.
In 1989, Congress passed the Flag Protection Act. It was promptly declared unconstitutional in 1990 (U.S. vs Haggerty and U.S. vs Eichman). To avoid the inconvenience of "Congress shall pass NO LAW abridging freedom of speech," their only choice is to desecrate the First Amendment, become the first Congress in the history of the United States to do so, and limit one of the most coveted rights in the world -- our freedom of expression.
Some may argue that the expression of burning a flag is not freedom of speech as written in the First Amendment. However, in Texas vs Johnson (1989), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled flag burning as "expressive conduct", and as such is protected under the First Amendment.
For the record, I am opposed to the desecration of our flag. I respect it as a symbol of this great nation. However, understand that it is just that -- a symbol, something that represents something else. And in this case, it is the "something else", our First Amendment, that matters to me infinitely more.
No matter what happens to a flag -- whether it is burned, eaten, painted, or shoved somewhere -- it has no physical effect on me , my family, or the security of our country. Current laws do prohibit others from burning their flag on my property, or others from burning my flag anywhere. However, there are no prohibitions against burning a flag that you own on your property as long as you don't violate local burning ordinances. And none of these are Federal offenses -- yet.
If the proposed amendment passes, flag burning would be permitted only for the disposal of worn flags. Yet, how would anyone know what is in the mind of someone who appears to be properly disposing of a flag? Under the proposed changes, would someone avowed as anti-government be in violation even if he or she appeared to be properly disposing of a worn flag. Ultimately, it could depend on the state's interpretation of what someone seems to be thinking -- not the ideal situation when our elected officials seem unable to interpret the intentions of their own First Amendment.
To all the members of Congress who voted to desecrate the First Amendment and to limit everyone's freedom of expression -- you are short-sighted and are using an emotional appeal to patriotism for personal political gain. I hold you in contempt more than I would anyone who merely burns cloth.
John L. Ferri