Shielding the Flag, Shattering Liberty
Published on Thursday, June 22, 2006 by the Minneapolis Star Tribune
Shielding the Flag, Shattering Liberty
Does the Senate prize symbol more than substance?

America is a nation built on four flimsy sheets of parchment. They're not as thrilling to look at as Old Glory, but the brittle pages of the U.S. Constitution have done more to sustain American liberty than any flag ever could. It's too bad, really, that Americans don't pledge allegiance to the Constitution -- and don't revere it as they do the Stars and Stripes. If they did, they'd see the folly in defending a rectangle of cloth at the expense of the parchment's promises.

Not that the flag really needs protection. It waves in the wind every day everywhere and is trampled underfoot rarely anywhere.

But whenever an election draws near, lawmakers trot out a constitutional amendment to ban "flag desecration." Pandering to public fondness for the most colorful symbol of U.S. freedom, Congress is gunning once again for the amendment's passage.

This is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. Though the plan has failed time and again, this session could be different: Passed by the House last year, the measure is headed for a Senate vote next week. The latest head count shows the amendment is just one vote shy of passage.

That margin wouldn't be so close if senators who should know better -- Minnesota's Mark Dayton and Norm Coleman among them -- acknowledged that by protecting the flag with this amendment, they would severely undermine the substance for which it stands. Between protecting the cloth and the right, the choice is clear and unavoidable. The Senate can't have both.

That's where the four sheets of parchment come in: Its 4,543 words spell out the inviolability of American liberty -- and couldn't be clearer in instructing lawmakers to keep their hands off the entitlements citizens enjoy.

Among the most precious is the right to dissent -- even by means that most consider repulsive.

© 2006 Star Tribune