WASHINGTON - June 15 - The American Civil Liberties Union today expressed its
disappointment as the Senate Judiciary Committee approved an election-year
proposal to include censorship in the Constitution. The full Senate is now
expected to consider S.J. Res. 12, the "Flag Desecration Amendment," the week of
"The right to voice a dissenting viewpoint - no matter how unpopular - is a
bedrock principle of America," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU
Washington Legislative Office. "The First Amendment is most important when it
protects speech that is controversial and repugnant. This proposed amendment
would be the first curtailment ever of the Bill of Rights. We urge the full
Senate to stand up for the Constitution and its principles."
The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved the proposed amendment that
would allow Congress to criminalize any "physical desecration" of the American
flag on a vote of 11 to 7. If adopted, it would be the first time the
Constitution has been used to restrict First Amendment freedoms or the Bill of
The ACLU noted that proposals to ban flag desecration or burning have been
consistently rejected by the Supreme Court and Congress since they were first
introduced in the late 1980s, and polls have shown the public has grown
increasingly averse to including censorship in the Constitution. The House
adopted the amendment last year on an eight-vote margin - the closest vote ever
taken by that body. The Senate has never approved it, but both proponents and
opponents of the measure see the vote as extremely close this year, with 66
Senators - just one vote shy of the two-thirds needed to amend the Constitution
- expected to support the amendment.
Public sentiment has also shifted on the issue. In a survey release in June
2005, the First Amendment Center found that 63 percent of those polled said that
the Constitution "should not be amended to prohibit burning or desecrating the
American flag." This number was 10 percentage points higher than the same survey
conducted in 2004. The same survey found that support for the amendment dropped
from 45 percent in 2004 to 35 percent in 2005.
Opposition to the amendment comes from all parts of the political spectrum.
Former Secretary of State and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin
Powell said in a 1999 letter, "The First Amendment exists to insure that freedom
of speech and expression applies not just to that with which we agree or
disagree, but also that which we find outrageous." In addition to Powell, former
Senator John Glenn and former Reagan Defense Department official Lawrence J.
Korb have spoken out against the proposal. Veterans Defending the Bill of
Rights, Veterans for Peace and Veterans for Common Sense have also been vocal in
"The symbol should not be valued more than the freedoms it represents," said
Terri Ann Schroeder, ACLU Senior Lobbyist. "We urge all Senators to show the
strength of our commitment to the Constitution by rejecting this attempt to
write censorship into our nation’s founding document."