June 26, 1990, pages S8735-S8736; under our system, once the
Supreme Court has ruled, that ruling is the law of the land. So
even though I disagree with the Court`s ruling, I accept it. The
question now before us is whether we should override the Supreme
Court`s decision by amending the Constitution.
I do not support changing the Constitution. We can support the American flag without changing the American Constitution.
The first 10 amendments to the Constitution have come to be known as the Bill of Rights. They were adopted as part of the Constitution because the States insisted that before a new and powerful Federal Government could be created, there had to be clear and controlling limits on the power of that Federal Government against individual citizens.
The Bill of Rights secures the liberty of the individual by limiting the power of government.
Across the whole sweep of human history, there is no better, clearer, more consist, more eloquent, or effective statement of the right of citizens to be free of the dictates of Government than the American Bill of Rights.
For 200 years it has protected the liberties of generations of Americans. During that time, the Bill of Rights has never been changed or amended. Not once. Ever. It stands today, word for word, exactly as it did when it was adopted two centuries ago.
Of the 10 amendments which make up the Bill of Rights none is more important than the first. In this debate, its relevant words are: Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.
The English language could not be more clear. Let me repeat those few words. `Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.`
Never in 200 years has the First Amendment been changed or amended. As a result, never in 200 years has Congress been able to make a law abridging the freedom of speech.
Now we are asked to change that, for the first time. We are asked to give Congress and the States the power to do that which, for 200 years, the Bill of Rights has prevented them from doing.
We are asked to permit Congress, or any State, to make a law that would abridge the freedom of speech, as defined by the Supreme Court.
Even though, as I have already said, I disagree with the Court, I do not believe we should amend the Bill of Rights. I do not believe we should ever, under any circumstances, for any reason, amend the American Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is so effective in protecting individual liberty precisely because of its unchanging nature. Once that is unraveled, its effectiveness will be forever diminished.
If the Constitution is amended to prohibit the burning of a flag, where do we stop?
The supporters of this amendment argue that their goal is so important that it warrants overriding the court`s decision. But the supporters should consider this question before they vote.
The point is that once the Bill of Rights is changed or amended, no line can be drawn. That is why it should not be changed or amended.
We Americans revere the flag. We also revere the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We need not choose between them.
For a free people, the fight against an enemy army demands sacrifice and courage. That is difficult and demanding. It is also difficult and demanding in time of peace to live up to our own high ideals.
It is not difficult for Americans or anyone else to tolerate differences and eccentricities. They are all around us. But defending the freedom of those who would deny it to others - that is difficult.
Perhaps that is why no other nation today tries, or has ever tried, to live by a standard as high and as demanding as the American Bill of Rights. Every nation has a government. Every nation has a flag. But only the United States of America has a Bill of Rights.
We Americans do try to live by the Bill of Rights. We have chosen not to take the easy way out. We have chosen not to try to silence those who are wrong, but rather to challenge them with the truth.
We will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights next year. We will remind ourselves, and the world, that the greatest protector of liberty is the truth.
We have political liberty in America because we reject any government-imposed political doctrine. We believe each American will find and defend his or her own political views.
That way has served America well. It has preserved our liberties
for two centuries.
Our Founding Fathers had more confidence in their fellow Americans and more faith in their children than some of our current leaders. They knew better than to have the Government dictate what politics are right or wrong.
For 200 years, the Bill of Rights protected the liberties of Americans through economic turmoil, civil and political strife, social upheaval, and international tension.
Despite the worst that fate and enemies have hurled at us, we have never ever found it necessary to change the fundamental principles on which our Government was founded and by which our freedom is secured.
Principles which have stood the test of time should not be discarded or tampered with.
It will be a sad irony if a few obnoxious publicity seekers who appear to hate America achieve their victory stampeding those who love America to take the unwise action of changing the Bill of Rights for the first time in our history. I love America and the American flag and the American Bill of Rights too much to let that happen without a fight.
June 11, 1990, page S7671: The question before us is whether or not after 200 years, the American Bill of Rights, the most concise, the most eloquent, the most effective statement of individual liberty in all of human history, is to be changed for the first time.