IN YESTERDAY'S OUTLOOK SECTION, THE PRO AND CON HEADINGS WERE REVERSED IN AN EXCERPT OF THE HOUSE DEBATE ON A PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT THAT WOULD PROHIBIT DESECRATION OF THE AMERICAN FLAG. THE COMMENTS OF REPS. CHARLES T. CANADY (R-FLA.), ROBERT W. GOODLATTE (R-VA.) AND JOHN E. SWEENEY (R-N.Y.) SHOULD HAVE APPEARED UNDER "IN FAVOR." THE COMMENTS OF REPS. JOHN CONYERS JR. (D-MICH.), JIM KOLBE (R-ARIZ.) AND NANCY PELOSI (D-CALIF.)SHOULD HAVE APPEARED UNDER "OPPOSED." (PUBLISHED 07/05/99)
CHARLES T. CANADY (R-FLA.): House Joint Resolution 33 provides simply, and I quote, "The Congress shall have the power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States." The amendment itself does not prohibit flag desecration; rather, it empowers Congress to enact legislation to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag. Subsequent legislation passed by Congress would define, within the parameters established by the constitutional amendment, what constitutes the flag of the United States and what constitutes physical desecration of the flag.
Under the amendment, such legislation would not stop anyone from expressing any idea or opinion. No one would be prevented from saying anything about the flag or anything else. Free, full and robust debate of public issues would proceed unimpeded. The only thing that would be prohibited would be conduct involving physical acts against the flag which are designed to cause the desecration of the flag. . . .
We are considering this amendment to the Constitution because in 1989, in the case of Texas v. Johnson, the Supreme Court of the United States, by a 5 to 4 margin, ruled that flag burning is an act of expression protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. . . .
We are here today because the Supreme Court, in its mistaken interpretation of the First Amendment, stripped our flag of the protection to which it is entitled. We are not here to ratify that mistaken interpretation. We are here to repudiate it.
ROBERT W. GOODLATTE (R-VA.): I rise in strong support of this constitutional amendment. Not all physical actions constitute free speech, and I am hardly alone in asserting that flag desecration is not free speech to be protected under the First Amendment.
"I believe that the States and Federal Government do have the power to protect the flag against acts of desecration and disgrace," wrote former chief justice Earl Warren. This view is shared by many past and present justices of the U.S. Supreme Court across the ideological spectrum, including Hugo Black, Abe Fortas, Byron White, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor and current Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
These eminent men and women have not taken a merely political stance based upon shallow assumptions. Rather, they rely upon well-established principles. . . . The flaw with the opposition's entire line of reasoning is their concept of free speech. It is not and never has been the right to do anything you want to do any time you want to do it. Rather, it is a precious liberty founded in law; a freedom preserved by respect for the rights of others. . . .
It is well established that certain types of speech may be prevented under certain circumstances, including lewd, obscene, profane, libelous, insulting or fighting words. When it comes to actions, the limits may be even broader. That is where I will vote to put flag desecration, where 48 state legislatures thought it was when they passed laws prohibiting it.
This amendment does not in any way alter the First Amendment. It simply corrects a misguided 5 to 4 court interpretation of that amendment. As Justice Rehnquist eloquently observed in concluding his dissent, "Uncritical extension of constitutional protection to the burning of the flag risks the frustration of the very purpose for which organized governments are instituted. The Government may conscript men into the Armed Forces where they must fight and perhaps die for the flag, but the government may not prohibit the public burning of the banner under which they fight."
REP. JOHN E. SWEENEY (R-N.Y.): I rise today as one of the lead co-sponsors and supporters of this constitutional amendment. There are many reasons to do so. As we know, there is a deeply reserved desire by many Americans to protect the flag because they recognize that the American flag holds a sacred place in their hearts. . . .
I take very personally the issue. I recall a year ago [when] my own father, a veteran of World War II, passed away. Prior to his passing, one of his great concerns was that the flag that is bestowed upon veterans by our country for their service be provided at his wake, be shown at his wake in the most meaningful way. If it means nothing, then why does one have, as their last thoughts, thoughts of the flag? If it means nothing, then tell that to those who go to war and march behind it. . . .
Every member of Congress takes the time to have his or her picture taken with the flag of the United States as a backdrop. Every member of Congress takes the time to march in parades with our flag. Every member of Congress takes the time to present the American flag to groups of constituents back in their district. Why? Is it because this is just some sort of studio prop? No. It is because the flag is a symbol that everyone understands and respects.
. . . We cannot use the flag of the United States as a prop and then fail to protect it and what it stands for. We cannot, we should not, we must not cave in to intellectual snobbery. Being patriotic and sharing a deep love for the American flag is not politically incorrect. So let us stop acting like we are all too smart to be patriotic.
* On June 24, the House passed Joint Resolution 33 by a 305 to 124 vote. Supporting the constitutional amendment were 210 Republicans and 95 Democrats. Opposed were 10 Republicans, 113 Democrats and one Independent.