‘Let freedom ring in United States’

Friday, May 15, 1998

The issue: The proposed flag-burning amendment poses a threat to the First Amendment.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The First Amendment is under fire from lawmakers who want to make it illegal to burn Old Glory. For the first time in history, a basic American freedom — speech — could be shackled and the consequences are fatal.

Don't get us wrong. The sight of Old Glory furling in the wind sends a special chill down our backs and puts a warm feeling in our guts. And we certainly are incensed when protesters choose to ignite Old Glory. Politicians have been down this path before. Earlier attempts to ban flag-burning were rightfully overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled the destruction of the flag in political protest constitutes protected and lawful speech.

This time they're trying to amend the Constitution and, in the process, cripple the First Amendment. We cannot stand for this. To allow even the smallest measure of censorship would send America spiraling toward destruction.

America was built on free speech. The Boston Tea Party, one of the defining moments in this country's infancy, was all about free speech and the right to protest government policies.

What if a few conservative patriots convinced the masses not to dump Ol' King George's tea in the Boston Harbor because, back then, tea was revered as a sacred, precious commodity the way Old Glory is considered today?

How prevalent is flag-burning in the United States? Since 1990, when the court ruled it was protected speech, about five flag-burnings a year have been recorded.

Do these rare, isolated incidents merit the destruction of the First Amendment, which has stood for more than 200 years?

The First Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights, which was crucial to the passage of the Constitution. In fact, the 13 states would not ratify the Constitution until the first 10 amendments were included.

Old Glory is a symbol of freedom. Her red bars are tributes to the blood shed by the colonists who revolted against tyrannical oppression, including censorship and the inability to protest government policies. The proposed amendment, which carries the support of both West Virginia senators, slaps the faces of those marvelous patriots and decries the very freedoms for which the flag flies.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a staunch defender of the Constitution, is the last person we'd expect see standing in support of this amendment. Frankly, we'd expect Byrd to be leading the charge against it.

We must suppress our emotions on this issue. Old Glory in flames is a sickening vision, but the Constitution in shambles is an apocalyptic vision.

It foretells the end of America as we know it today; an America based on the freedoms of speech, religion and press for which our forefathers fought and died.

Don't let their patriotic actions be obscured by politicians fanning the flames of this ill-advised flag-burning amendment.