Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk - A weekly Column

June 28, 1999

Flag Amendment is a reckless solution
Loyalty must be to constitutional principles, not symbol of it

Loyalty and conviction are admirable traits, but when misplaced both can lead to serious problems.
More than a decade ago, an obnoxious man in Dallas decided to perform an ugly act: the desecration of an American flag in public. His action violated a little-known state law prohibiting desecration of the flag. He was tried in state court and found guilty.
As always seems to be the case, though, the federal government intervened. After winding through the federal system, the Supreme Court -- in direct contradiction to the Constitution's 10th Amendment -- finally ruled against the state law.
Since then Congress has twice tried to overturn more than 213 years of history and legal tradition by making flag desecration a federal crime. Just as surely as the Court was wrong in its disregard for the Tenth Amendment by improperly assigning the restrictions of the First Amendment to the states, so are attempts to federally restrict the odious (and very rare) practice of Americans desecrating the flag.
After all, the First Amendment clearly states that it is Congress that may "make no laws" and is prohibited from "abridging" the freedom of speech and expression. While some may not like it, under our Constitution state governments are free to restrict speech, expression, the press and even religious activities. The states are restrained, in our federal system, by their own constitutions and electorate.
This system has served us well for more than two centuries. After all, our founding fathers correctly recognized that the federal government should be severely limited, and especially in matters of expression. They revolted against a government that prevented them from voicing their politically unpopular views regarding taxation, liberty and property rights. As a result, the founders wanted to ensure that a future monolithic federal government would not exist, and that no federal government of the United States would ever be able to restrict what government officials might find obnoxious, unpopular or unpatriotic. After all, the great patriots of our nation -- George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and Benjamin Franklin -- were all considered disloyal pests by the British government.
Too often in this debate, the issue of patriotism is misplaced. This is well addressed by Keith Kruel, an Army veteran and a past national commander of the American Legion. He has said that, "Our nation was not founded on devotion to symbolic idols, but on principles, beliefs and ideals expressed in the Constitution and its Bill of Rights. American veterans who have protected our banner in battle have not done so to protect a 'golden calf.' A patriot cannot be created by legislation."
Our nation would be far better served that if instead of loyalty to an object -- what Mr. Kruel calls the "golden calf" -- we had more Members of Congress who were loyal to the Constitution and principles of liberty. If more people demonstrated a strong conviction to the Tenth Amendment, rather than creating even more federal powers, this issue would be far better handled.
For more than two centuries, it was the states that correctly handled the issue of flag desecration in a manner consistent with the principle of federalism. When the federal courts improperly intervened, many people understandably sought a solution to a very emotional issue. But the proposed solution to enlarge the federal government and tread down the path of restricting unpopular political expression, is incorrect, and even frightening.
The correct solution is to reassert the 10th Amendment. The states should be unshackled from unconstitutional federal restrictions.
As a proud Air Force veteran, my stomach turns when I think of those who defile our flag. But I grow even more nauseous, though, at the thought of those who would defile our precious constitutional traditions and liberties.
Loyalty to individual liberty, combined with a conviction to uphold the Constitution, is the best of what our flag can represent.