Ron Paul
2001 Ron Paul Chapter 53

Flag Burning Amendment

17 July 2001

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Congressional Record (Page H4051)   Cached

2001 Ron Paul 53:1
Mr. PAUL. I thank the gentleman for yielding me this time.

2001 Ron Paul 53:2
Mr. Speaker, I do not think what we are doing here today is a contest between who is the most patriotic. I do not think that is it at all. Nobody here in the debate is unpatriotic. But I think the debate is possibly defining patriotism.

2001 Ron Paul 53:3
But I am concerned that we are going to do something here today that Castro did in Cuba for 40 years. There is a prohibition against flag burning in Cuba. And one of the very first things that Red China did when it took over Hong Kong was to pass an amendment similar to this, to make sure there is no desecration of the Red Chinese flag. That is some of the company that we are keeping if we pass this amendment.

2001 Ron Paul 53:4
A gentleman earlier on said that he fears more of what is happening from within our country than from without. I agree with that. But I also come down on the side that is saying that the threat of this amendment is a threat to me and, therefore, we should not be so anxious to do this. I do not think you can force patriotism.

2001 Ron Paul 53:5
I also agree with the former speaker who talked about responsibility. I agree it is about responsibility. But it also has something to do with rights. You cannot reject rights and say it is all responsibility and therefore we have to write another law. Responsibility implies a voluntary approach. You cannot achieve patriotism by authoritarianism, and that is what we are talking about here.

2001 Ron Paul 53:6
I think we all agree with respect to the flag and respect for our country. It is all in how we intend to do this. And also this idea about veterans, because you are a veteran that you have more wisdom. I do not think so. I am a veteran, but I disagree with other veterans. Keith Kruel, who was a past national commander of the American Legion had this to say:

2001 Ron Paul 53:7
“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.”

2001 Ron Paul 53:8
He was the national commander of the American Legion. So I am not less patriotic because I take this different position.

2001 Ron Paul 53:9
Another Member earlier mentioned that this could possibly be a property rights issue. I think it has something to do with the first amendment and freedom of expression. That certainly is important, but I think property rights are very important here. If you have your own flag and what you do with it, there should be some recognition of that. But the retort to that is, oh, no, the flag belongs to the country. The flag belongs to everybody. Not really. If you say that, you are a collectivist. That means you believe everybody owns everything. Who would manufacture the flags? Who would buy the flags? Who would take care of them? So there is an ownership. If the Federal Government owns a flag and you are on Federal property, even, without this amendment, you do not have the right to go and burn that flag. If you are causing civil disturbances, that is handled another way. But this whole idea that there could be a collective ownership of the flag, I think, is erroneous.

2001 Ron Paul 53:10
The first amendment, we must remember, is not there to protect noncontroversial speech. It is to do exactly the opposite. So, therefore, if you are looking for controversy protection it is found in the first amendment. But let me just look at the words of the amendment. Congress, more power to the Congress. Congress will get power, not the States. That is the opposite of everything we believe in or at least profess to believe in on this side of the aisle.

2001 Ron Paul 53:11
To prohibit. How do you prohibit something? You would need an army on every street corner in the country. You cannot possibly prevent flag burning. You can punish it but you cannot prohibit it. That word needs to be changed eventually if you ever think you are going to get this amendment passed.

2001 Ron Paul 53:12
Physical desecration. Physical, what does it mean? If one sits on it? Do you arrest them and put them in jail? Desecration is a word that was used for religious symbols. In other words, you are either going to lower the religious symbols to the state or you are going to uphold the state symbol to that of religion. So, therefore, the whole word of desecration is a word that was taken from religious symbols, not state symbols. Maybe it harks back to the time when the state and the church was one and the same.

2001 Ron Paul 53:13
I urge a “no” vote on this amendment.

2001 Ron Paul 53:14
Mr. Speaker, loyalty and conviction are admirable traits, but when misplaced both can lead to serious problems.

2001 Ron Paul 53:15
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.

2001 Ron Paul 53:16
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.

2001 Ron Paul 53:17
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.

2001 Ron Paul 53:18
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.

2001 Ron Paul 53:19
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.

2001 Ron Paul 53:20
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.”

2001 Ron Paul 53:21
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.

2001 Ron Paul 53:22
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.

2001 Ron Paul 53:23
The correct solution is to reassert the 10th Amendment. The states should be unshackled from unconstitutional federal restrictions.

2001 Ron Paul 53:24
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.

2001 Ron Paul 53:25
Loyalty to individual liberty, combined with a conviction to uphold the Constitution, is the best of what our flag can represent.

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