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When you read the United States Constitution, you must be struck with how that document restricts the power of the United States government over individuals without restricting the actions of individuals with respect to our government. Now, more than 200 years after the first ten amendments (the Bill of Rights) were adopted, Congress is attempting to insert a restriction on the actions of citizens.
Given how infrequently an angry person burns the American flag in protest against our government, the proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit flag burning is little more than a gratuitous political stunt — but a very dangerous stunt that seeks to interfere with the Bill of Rights. Once a government must adopt constitutional measures such as this to protect itself against its own citizens, that government loses legitimacy.
No, I do not advocate burning the flag, no matter how valid the protest. This use of real flames on a piece of cloth that many hold dear creates emotional flames that repel rather than attract support to the protester's cause. Burning the flag is thus a very ineffective form of protest. But I must even more strongly oppose any constitutional amendment that prohibits such a protest. Burning the flag does not represent as great a danger to our liberties as its prohibition. We must not make the symbol (our flag) more important than our nation (the people who are ultimately the government).
13 June 1997
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