Jun 27 2006
Full text of Senator Shelby’s remarks as prepared:
Mr. President, I rise today to express my strong support for the Anti-Flag Desecration Resolution.
Two hundred and twenty nine years ago this month the Continental Congress adopted a resolution giving the United States a flag, the Stars and Stripes – the American flag we know today. There is no greater symbol of our freedom and liberty.
The Stars and Stripes epitomize the underpinnings of the United States – that which was envisioned and created by the founders of this great nation, solidified by the framers of the Constitution, and represented at that first Continental Congress. Old Glory was raised at Iwo Jima, placed on the moon, and drapes the coffin of every servicemember who has sacrificed their life for our nation. Our flag, Mr. President, is emblematic of liberty and democracy; it honors all those who have defended our nation from enemies at home and abroad, and all those who carried it into battle, and never returned.
Yet there are some throughout this country who have chosen to express their views and opinions by defacing and even burning the flag. They believe the flag is simply a piece of fabric upon which stars and stripes have been sewn. They refuse to respect and revere the flag as a true monument to the freedoms and ideals of our great nation. These notions were bolstered by a 1989 Supreme Court decision that protected desecration of the flag.
Mr. President, throughout the history of our nation, the flag has been protected by laws. In fact, before the Supreme Court’s decision in 1989, 48 states and the District of Columbia had laws regulating the physical misuse of the American flag. Even today, a majority of Americans continue to believe that the flag should be protected – that the court was wrong in their decision.
It is that strong support and my firm belief that we must protect the flag, that has sent me here today to advocate for this resolution. While some have argued that we should simply accept court interpretations of First Amendment issues as final, irreversible truths, our system of government is based upon checks and balances that allows for legislative reactions to judicial decisions.
While rarely invoked, utilizing the procedures set forth to amend the Constitution is a reasonable reaction to a controversial, and clearly wrong-headed court decision. The amendment process should not be avoided simply because it is arduous or because the courts are thought to have the final word. The American system provided for amendments and there are some issues that deserve that attention.
In debating this issue we must we must look beyond burning the flag and protecting one’s freedom of expression. This issue must be considered in a broader context. We must remember that this issue is about respecting the single, unifying symbol of this great democracy – the American flag.
Defacing the United States Capitol or the Washington Monument would never be considered legitimate acts of free speech. The flag should be entitled to the same considerations. The flag, Mr. President, is a national treasure, a monument even, and like other national assets, it deserves to be protected and respected.
Our flag is a unique national symbol, that represents common values, shared aspirations, and the sacrifices of millions of Americans. The argument is not about legitimate free speech, but rather the extent to which free people must tolerate offensive acts.
While some will say that a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning unduly inhibits free expression, Mr. President, I disagree.
Let me be clear. It will not diminish the Bill of Rights to allow Congress to define and enforce a law which protects the American flag much like other monuments are protected. To desecrate the American flag is to desecrate the memory of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have sacrificed their lives to keep our flag flying. It is to destroy everything this country represents.
There are some things that just need to be treated with respect and reverence for no other reason then to honor all those who have served and died for this country.
When we look at our flag we should see more than a piece of fabric, colored red, white, and blue. We should see our nation and all that it symbolizes. Our armed forces put their lives on the line daily to defend what Old Glory represents. We have a duty and responsibility to honor their sacrifices by giving the flag the Constitutional protection it deserves.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.