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Letters to the 107th Congress

March 29, 2001

Dear Freshman Senator:

On behalf of the American Bar Association I urge you to oppose S. J. Res. 7, a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States authorizing Congress to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.

The First United States Congress launched enactment of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution. In the First Amendment is the guarantee of freedom of speech. For over 200 years this right of free speech and expression has retained that place: prominent, celebrated, honored and intact.

Also for over 200 years, the American Flag, in each of its changing forms, has stood as a symbol of the rights our forefathers fought to assure for future generations. It is the physical representation of both the rights enumerated in the U.S. Constitution and the blood shed to preserve those rights.

The American Bar Association deplores any desecration of the flag, our revered national symbol. But the principle of free speech in the First Amendment, what the flag in part represents, is more important than the symbol itself. We oppose the adoption of an amendment to the Constitution controlling desecration of the American flag.

Such an amendment would breach the First Amendment in order to suppress political dissent in the form of abuse of our national symbol. Should this resolution pass, the harm to the Bill of Rights would be significant. As the Supreme Court recognized in Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989), "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable." The Court goes on to add: "We have not recognized an exception to this principle even where our flag has been involved."

While there are instances in our recent history in which the flag has been physically abused in political protests, the ideas and ideals the flag symbolizes have never been damaged by such abuse. The sight of the flag beneath which our veterans served being defiantly burned, torn or defaced is abhorrent, but amending the Constitution to prevent this would harm the ideals they fought to protect.

We cannot preserve the symbol of American freedom by limiting the freedom for which it stands. Lest the 107th Congress undo the good work of the First, we urge you to oppose S. J. Res. 7. My office is at your service for more information or assistance in this matter.

Sincerely,

Robert D. Evans
Director, Governmental Affairs Office

107th Congress Letters Home

AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION
Governmental Affairs Office
740 Fifteenth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
ph: 202-662-1760
fx: 202-662-1762

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