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VOICES: A Forum for Community Issues | Essay

Protect America, Not a Symbol

July 03, 1999|HERBERT SELWYN | Herbert Selwyn lives in Encino

When I fought in World War II, I never dreamed that I would have to fight to defend the Bill of Rights when I got home. But that is what I must now do because Congress is just a few votes shy of getting a step closer to amending the Constitution to outlaw the desecration of the American flag. If this amendment passes the Senate by a two thirds vote, it will be sent for ratification by the states.

As a proud veteran, I strongly oppose this amendment, and it grieves me that I must caution our senators and representatives not to tamper with a basic freedom spelled out in the Bill of Rights.

The freedom to speak our minds, to dissent, is the hallmark of American democracy one of the principles that makes this country great. To prohibit flag-burning is to mock that freedom.

Like most Americans, I am deeply offended to see someone burn or trample the Stars and Stripes. I love my country. But I did not serve my country to protect a symbol of freedom; I served to protect our freedoms.

This constitutional amendment would do us all a grave and irreparable injustice by chipping away at the right of free speech. Those who support the amendment intend to protect the flag, but they would do so at too great a cost: the loss of our right to dissent, something the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently reaffirmed through the years.

This amendment is a clear case of good intentions gone awry. If the flag were to become sacred, who would monitor its use? A flag commission? The flag police? And what would the act of desecration entail--putting flags in paintings, or clothes or flying the flag upside down?

The flag is not a sacred object. To regard it as such would be an affront to all religious persons.

I know of no American veteran who put his or her life on the line to protect the sanctity of the flag. That was not why we fulfilled our patriotic duty. We did so and still do to protect our country and our way of life and to ensure that our children enjoy the same freedoms for which we fought.

Ultimately, we must be able to realize that when a flag goes up in smoke, only cloth is burned. Our principles continue to thrive in the heart.

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