Note: This document is the unofficial version of the Congressional Record. The printed Congressional Record produced by the Government Printing Office is the only official version.
PART CONGRESSIONAL RECORD (EXTENSIONS OF REMARKS)
DATE January 5, 1995
PAGE PAGE E53TITLE
Mr. EMERSON. Mr. Speaker, today, I am introducing a constitutional amendment to prohibit desecration of the U.S. flag. Many will no doubt recall the furor when the Supreme Court in 1989 overturned the Texas conviction of Gregory Johnson and declared the Texas flag-burning statute unconstitutional. The Congress responded weakly, declining to pass a constitutional amendment and opting instead for a new Federal statute which prohibited desecration of the American flag. To no one`s surprise, this statute was also declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. As a result, burning and trampling upon our Nation`s most revered symbol is now constitutionally protected conduct.
The Court based its decision on first amendment freedom of expression. I believe strongly in the first amendment and in its protections, but there are recognized exceptions to the first amendment. Not every act of expressive conduct is protected. Libel and slander, obscenity, copyright and trademark laws, classified information, and perjury are but a few acts of expression which fall beyond the first amendment. So, too, should flag-burning fall beyond the first amendment. To paraphrase Chief Justice Rehnquist, flag burning is a grunt which is designed not so much to communicate but to antagonize.
PAGE E53 Throughout history, the U.S. flag has been revered as the embodiment of the liberty and freedom which have become the hallmark of our Nation. This casual treatment of our Nation`s most revered symbol is an affront not only to the flag, but to the ideals which stand behind it. It is an affront to the people who have served our great country in all capacities, but especially to those who have fought and died for America.
Flagrant and public abuse of the flag should not be considered as symbolic speech under the first amendment, and such abuse should not be tolerated. I hope that the mere fact that E 54 5 1/2 years have passed since the Johnson decision will not lessen enthusiasm for protecting Old Glory. I strongly urge my colleagues to join me in passing a constitutional amendment which would give the States and the Federal Government the authority to prohibit desecration of the American flag.
Warren S. Apel