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FLAG BURNING AMENDMENT (House of Representatives - June 10, 1997)

[Page: H3580]

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under the Speaker's announced policy of January 21, 1997, the gentleman from Texas [Mr. Paul] is recognized during morning hour debates for 5 minutes.

Mr. PAUL. Mr. Speaker, the Congress will soon vote on a flag burning amendment to the Constitution. This issue arouses great emotions, even without any evidence flag burning is a problem. When was the last time we heard of a significant incident involving flag burning? It is a nonissue, but Congress has managed to make it one while avoiding the serious matters of life, liberty, and property.

As Congress makes plans to attack the flag enemies, it stubbornly refuses to consider seriously the Doctrine of Enumerated Powers, property rights, political propaganda from a government-run educational system, taxpayers' paid-for NEA sacrilege, licensing of all broadcast networks, or taxpayers' financing of monopolistic political parties, let alone the budget, the debt, the deficit, honest money, policing the world and the entire welfare state.

Will the country actually be improved with this amendment? Will true patriotism thus thrive as the malcontents are legislated into submission? Do we improve the character of angry people because we threaten them with a prison cell better occupied by a rapist?

This whole process fails to address the anger that prompts such misguided behavior as flag burning. We have a government growing by leaps and bounds, our citizens are fearful of the future and we respond by creating the underwear police. Surely flag underwear will be deemed a desecration.

Why is dealing with a symptom of anger and frustration by suppressing free expression a moral good?

The best I can tell is legislative proposals like this come from Congress' basic assumption that it can legislate economic equality and mold personal behavior. The reasoning goes; if Congress thinks it can achieve these goals, why not legislate respect and patriotism, even if it does undermine freedom of expression and property ownership.

Desecration is defined as: `To divest of a sacred character or office, commit sacrilege or blasphemy or to deconsecrate.' If consecrate is `to make sacred; such as a church or bread or wine', how can we deconsecrate something not first consecrated? Who then consecrated the flag? When was it done?

`Sacred' beliefs are those reserved for a religious or Godly nature, `To set apart for the worship of a deity. To make holy.' Does this amendment mean we now concede the flag is a religious symbol? Will this amendment, if passed, essentially deify the State?

There are some, I am sure, who would like to equate the State with God. The State's assumption of parental rights is already a deep concern to many Americans. Will this encourage more people to accept the State as our God? We imply by this amendment that the State is elevated to a religion, a dangerous notion and one the founders feared. Calling flag burning blasphemous is something we should do with great caution.

Will it not be ironic if the flag is made sacred and we write laws against its desecration at the same time we continue to steal taxpayers' money to fund the National Endowment for the Arts, which truly desecrates Christ and all of Christianity in the name of free speech?

The flag, indeed, is a loved patriotic symbol of American pride and freedom. Many of us, I for 5 years, served our country in the military fighting for the principles of liberty, but not for the physical cloth of which the flag is woven.

There is confusion between the popular symbol and the real stuff, and in the process of protecting our symbols we are about to undermine the real stuff: liberty. The whole notion of legislating against desecration is vague and undefinable. Burning can be easily identified, but should it not matter who paid for the flag? And are there no owners of the particular flag involved? Are all flags to be communal property?

If we pretend flags are universally owned, that means we can use them randomly. If there is no individual ownership, how can one buy or sell a flag? Should it not be a concern as to where the flag is burned and on whose property? With this legislation, the flag will lose its identity as property and become a holy government symbol not to be desecrated. These are difficult questions but they must be answered.

Whatever happened to the notion that freedom to express unpopular, even obnoxious views, including Marxist views, was the purpose of guaranteeing freedom of expression? Of what value is protection of only popular and majority-approved opinions? That is a mockery of liberty. Soviet citizens had that much freedom. Remember, dissidents who burned the Soviet flag were shot.

A national flag police can only exist in a totalitarian state. We should have none of it. Why not police the burning of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation? These acts, expressing a radical fringe view, would be as equally repugnant.

[Page: H3581]





Warren S. Apel