Senator Shelby gave the following remarks on Monday on the floor of the Senate:
Mr. President, I rise today to express my strong support for the Anti-Flag Desecration Resolution that is before the Senate this afternoon.
Mr. President, 229 years ago this month, the Continental Congress adopted a resolution giving the United States a flag, the Stars and Stripes, the American flag that we know today. There is no greater symbol of our freedom and our 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, was placed on the moon, and drapes the coffin of every servicemember who has sacrificed their life for our Nation. Our flag 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 the desecration of the flag.
Throughout the history of our Nation, the flag has been protected by laws. In fact, before the Supreme Court 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 the flag should be protected, that the Court was basically 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, I disagree. Our system of government is based upon checks and balances and allows for legislative reactions to judicial decisions.
While rarely invoked, amending the Constitution is a reasonable reaction to a controversial and clearly wrongheaded court decision. The American system of government provided for amendments, and there are some issues that deserve that attention. I believe protecting the flag is one.
In debating this issue, 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 U.S. 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 is a national treasure, a monument, even, and like other national treasures, 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, in my judgment, 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 speech, I respectfully disagree.
Let me be clear. It will not diminish the Bill of Rights, in my judgment, to allow Congress to define and enforce a law which protects the American flag much like other national treasures are protected. To desecrate the American flag, in my judgment, is to desecrate the memory of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have sacrificed their lives to keep our flags 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 than to honor all those who have served and died for this country.
When we look at our flag, I believe we should see something 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 a responsibility to honor their sacrifices by giving the flag the constitutional protection it deserves.