Flag amendment backers staging rallies in Connecticut, Illinois

Friday, May 22, 1998


WASHINGTON — Supporters of a constitutional amendment that would prohibit
desecration of the American flag say they are within three votes of passing
the proposal in the Senate. They are stepping up their grassroots lobbying
campaign to move undecided lawmakers into the “yes” column and dislodge some
opponents who are in tight re-election campaigns.


Two senators facing the voters this fall will return home for the Memorial
Day weekend to find rallies in support of the flag-desecration amendment in
their home communities, according to Marty Justis of the Citizens Flag
Alliance. Sens. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.,
have voted against the flag amendment previously and are listed by opponents
as “no” votes this time around. But supporters think they can be moved.


Justis said the CFA, an umbrella group founded by the American Legion in
1984 to push for passage of flag-protection measures, is engaged in
grassroots lobbying across the country but the “activity is the greatest in
Connecticut and Illinois.”


“In both instances, Sens. Lieberman and Moseley-Braun have yet to declare
their support for the amendment, and we believe grassroots lobbying will
change that tide,” said Justis, an American Legion official who has been “on
loan” to CFA since 1994 to coordinate the flag efforts.


Justis said CFA would sponsor “Show Your Colors” rallies on Monday, when
Memorial Day is being celebrated, in Derby, Conn., and in Chicago “to draw
attention to importance of the American flag to the American people and to
draw attention to the flag amendment now in the United States Senate. With
these activities, we are encouraging all Americans to fly their flag
properly from Memorial Day through Veterans Day 1998.”


In Illinois, he said, the CFA is busing in people from all corners of the
state for the Chicago rally, which will feature retired Army Major Gen.
Patrick Brady, a Medal of Honor winner, and Adrian Cronauer, upon whom Robin
Williams' character in the movie “Good Morning Vietnam” was based.


Justis said the CFA expects the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing
on the proposed constitutional amendment outlawing flag desecration on June
3, with a full Senate vote coming on the amendment in late summer or early
fall. There also has been speculation that the Senate leadership, if it
thinks it has the votes to pass the proposal, could call the amendment up
for a vote sooner.


Sixty-one senators have signed on as co-sponsors of flag-desecration
amendment, and Sens. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., Richard Bryan, R-Nev., and Mary
Landrieu, D-La., also have indicated they will vote in favor of it, Justis
said.


That means supporters are just three votes shy of a two-thirds majority of
67 needed to pass a constitutional amendment in the Senate. An identical
amendment has already passed the House by a wide margin.


Once a proposed constitutional amendment is passed by both the House and
Senate, it goes to the states, 38 of which must ratify the amendment for it
to be adopted. Forty-nine states have already adopted resolutions saying
they would do so.


If the amendment passes and is ratified, it would mark the first restriction
of the basic rights extended to Americans under the First Amendment in the
constitution's 200-year history.


“I would see this particular amendment, once it clears Capitol Hill, to be
the swiftest-approved constitutional amendment in the history of the
nation,” Justis said.


Justis said since 1990, when the American Legion became involved in the
flag-protection movement, more than $12 million has been spent to push for
passage of the either a constitutional amendment or a statute to outlaw
flag-burning.


Legislative efforts to make it a crime to desecrate the flag have been held
to be unconstitutional restrictions on the free-speech guarantees of the
First Amendment by the Supreme Court, leaving a constitutional amendment as
the only way to secure the protection flag advocates are seeking.


As the lobbying campaign for and against the flag-burning amendment heats
up, opponents and supporters agree that if Senate were to vote now, it would
be extremely close. The only senators who are believed to be undecided are
two North Dakotans — Democrats Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan.


Conrad's office did not return phone inquiries regarding his position, but
Dorgan's press spokesman said the senator was still reviewing the language
of the amendment before deciding how to vote.


Justis said Dorgan and Conrad “are receiving the same treatment any other
senator would get, whether they are in support of the amendment or have not
yet declared their support.” The lobbying efforts include mail, phone calls
and visits, either in person if a constituent is in Washington or in their
home states during legislative breaks, he said.


However, others involved in lobbying the proposal said the pressure on both
Conrad and Dorgan from veterans' groups in North Dakota is intense.


Justis said it is not just Dorgan and Conrad who are being lobbied hard.


“All the remaining 36 senators are important to us. We're not taking
anything for granted on this vote. We're encouraging our people to keep in
contact with the 64 supporters and with those not yet declared in support,”
he said.


Jim Hermes of People for the American Way, one of the lead groups opposing
the flag-desecration amendment, said opponents are also focusing on Dorgan
and Conrad as well as Mosley-Braun, Lieberman and Sen. Patty Murray,
D-Wash., another senator up for re-election this fall.


“We're trying to make a point that this has never been a big issue in an
election, even in states where the Citizens Flag Alliance has tried to make
it one and has spent a lot of money on it,” Hermes said.


Hermes said CFA spent “millions of dollars in 1996 trying to make this an
election issue” in six targeted elections, but lost all of them. Hermes
said the lawmakers in targeted races, all of whom won re-election despite
the CFA lobbying effort, were Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.; Sen. Mitch
McConnell, R-Ky.; Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn.; Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa;
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.; and Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del.