Americans United Urges Defeat Of Flag Desecration Amendment

AU's Lynn Says Measure Would Harm First Amendment Freedoms

The U.S. Senate should scuttle a proposed constitutional amendment limiting freedom of expression and treating the American flag as a religious symbol, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights is scheduled to vote today on S.J. Res. 12, the so-called Flag Desecration Amendment. The measure would allow Congress to ban “the physical desecration” of the American flag.

The Constitution, not the flag, needs protection during an election season,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Members of Congress should be addressing the real problems our nation faces, not pandering for votes through amendments like this one.”

In a May 1 letter to senators, Lynn noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that destruction of the flag is a form of political speech that is protected by the First Amendment. Justices ranging from Antonin Scalia to Harry Blackmun agreed that the Bill of Rights protects even offensive expression.

“Removing constitutional protection from core political expression simply because it gives offense to others would constitute grave damage to our nation’s founding principles and fundamental freedoms,” wrote Lynn.

“The Bill of Rights,” he added, “has not been amended since its ratification and should be left intact. Passage of the proposed Amendment would create a dangerous precedent for future alterations to the Bill of Rights.”

An activist leading the charge for the flag desecration amendment has admitted that the proposal will be just the first of several changes to the Bill of Rights. In a letter to the conservative Washington Times newspaper last year, Patrick H. Brady, chairman of the Citizens Flag Alliance, cited other amendments that may follow dealing with prayer, religious displays and the Pledge of Allegiance. Concluded Brady, “If we can recapture our flag, we will have begun a march to recapture our Constitution.”

Lynn noted that the language of the proposed constitutional amendment also equates the flag with religious symbols.

“The term ‘desecration,’” Lynn wrote, “has traditionally been used to define attacks on religious symbols and holy books. Although the flag is an important civic symbol of our nation, it has no religious meaning. To ensconce in the body of the Constitution language that prohibits desecrating the United States flag would thus place the federal government in the role of deeming the flag as officially sacred.”

Therefore, said Lynn, the amendment would not only contravene freedom of expression but also the separation of church and state.

Congress should “soundly reject passage of this proposed Amendment,” Lynn argued.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.