In the wake of the recent elections, both parties have been talking about putting
differences aside and beginning work on a consensus agenda of popular policy. Sounds good in
theory, doesn't it. But focusing on what is popular too often can lead to disturbing
Once again Congress has forgotten its duty to the nation and is considering a proposal to
amend the U.S. Constitution to outlaw desecration of the American flag -- the very same
amendment it has rejected twice before.
Policy decisions today are too often based on public opinion polls, with too little thought
being given to the broad impact of the policies. This amendment is a good example -- polls
show that a vast majority of Americans want to protect the flag, until they are told that the
amendment would mark the first time the government has limited freedom of speech and
freedom of expression. As a veteran, I want to protect the flag. But popular support, or lack of
it, is really irrelevant.
At the core of the debate is one simple fact: a flag desecration amendment is simply not a
national priority, nor should it be. There have been no more than three incidents of flag burning
over the past five years. Surely our nation is not so imperiled by three such instances that we
must alter our basic system of freedoms and liberties.
The issue here is not love of or reverence for the American flag. Americans who oppose
the amendment are not against Old Glory or American values. I am a veteran, and was proud to
serve under the flag. But I object to "protecting" the flag as an object at the expense of the
freedoms it symbolizes. The proposed amendment would limit one of the most cherished, and
internationally envied aspects of our liberty -- our ability to express our frustration and distress
with government, through words or symbolic speech, no matter how wrong or misguided our
views may be. Dissent is as American as the flag itself.
We do not need this amendment. It has been offered time and again only because
politicians assume that it is the popular thing to do, then defeated when they realize it is an
irresponsible thing to do.
The American flag will survive rare eruptions of dramatic protest. It will not survive,
however, if the freedoms it protects disappear with a misguided constitutional amendment.