The Book of Ron Paul
1997 Ron Paul Chapter 64

Flag Burning Amendment

12 June 1997

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Congressional Record (Page H3750)   Cached

1997 Ron Paul 64:1
Mr. PAUL. Mr. Speaker, the Congress will vote today on a “Flag Burning Amendment” to the Constitution. This issue arouses great emotions even without any evidence flag burning is a problem. When was the last time we heard of a significant incident involving flag burning? It’s a nonissue but Congress has managed to make it one while avoiding the serious matters of life, liberty, and property.

1997 Ron Paul 64:2
There just is no flag “desecration” crisis. Where are the demonstrators, where are the letters? Will this only lead to more discredit on Congress? Only 6 percent of the American people trust anything they hear from the Federal Government so why should they believe there is a flag crisis requiring an adjustment to the Bill of Rights for the first time in our history. Since most of what Congress does, leads to unintended consequences, why do we feel compelled to solve imaginary problems?

1997 Ron Paul 64:3
The American people are way ahead of the U.S. Congress and their distrust is a healthy sign the Republic will survive in spite of all our good deeds and noble gestures. And that’s good.

1997 Ron Paul 64:4
What sense of insecurity requires such a public display to reassure ourselves we are patriots of the highest caliber, confident enough to take on the flag burning movement—a movement yet to raise it’s ugly head.

1997 Ron Paul 64:5
Our political saviors will have us believe that our loyalty to America hinges on this lone amendment to the Constitution.

1997 Ron Paul 64:6
As Congress makes plans to attack the flag enemies, it stubbornly refuses to consider seriously: the Doctrine of Enumerated Powers, property rights, political propaganda from a government run educational system, taxpayer’s paid-for NEA sacrilege, licensing of all broadcast networks, or taxpayer’s financing of monopolistic political parties, let alone the budget, the debt, the deficit, honest money, policing the world, and the entire welfare state.

1997 Ron Paul 64:7
Pervasive bureaucratic government is all around us and now we’re spending time on developing the next addition to the Federal police force—the flag police. Diverting attention away from real problems toward a pseudo-problem is not a few technique of politicians.

1997 Ron Paul 64:8
Political grandstanding is probably the greatest motivation behind this movement to change the Constitution. It’s thought to be easy to embarrass those who, on principle, believe and interpret the 1st Amendment differently. Those who vote eagerly for this amendment do it with good intentions as they laugh at the difficult position in which opponents find themselves.

1997 Ron Paul 64:9
Will the country actually be improved with this amendment? Will true patriotism thus thrive as the mal-contents are legislated into submission? Do we improve the character of angry people because we threaten them with a prison cell, better occupied by a rapist?

1997 Ron Paul 64:10
This whole process fails to address the anger that prompts such misguided behavior as flag burning. We have a government growing by leaps and bounds, our citizens are fearful of the future, and we respond by creating the underwear police—surely, flag underwear will be deemed a “desecration”.

1997 Ron Paul 64:11
Why is dealing with a symptom of anger and frustration by suppressing free expression a moral good?

1997 Ron Paul 64:12
The best I can tell is legislative proposals like this come from Congress’ basic assumption that it can legislate economic equality and mold personal behavior. The reasoning goes; if Congress thinks it can achieve these goals, why not legislate respect and patriotism even if it does undermine freedom of expression and property ownership?

1997 Ron Paul 64:13
Desecration is defined as: “To divest of a sacred character or office, commit sacrilege or blasphemy or de-(con)secrate.” If consecrate is “to make sacred; such as a church or bread and wine,” how can we “de-consecrate” something not first “consecrated”? Who then consecrated the flag? When was it done? Sacred beliefs are those reserved for a religious or Godly nature, that is, to set apart for the worship of a deity. To make holy.” Does this amendment mean we now concede the flag is a religious symbol? Will this amendment if passed essentially deify the State?

1997 Ron Paul 64:14
There are some, I’m sure, who would like to equate the State with God. The State’s assumption of parental rights is already a deep concern to many Americans. Will this encourage more people to accept the State as our God? We imply by this amendment that the State is elevated to a religion—a dangerous notion and one the Founders feared. Calling flag burning “blasphemous” is something we should do with great caution.

1997 Ron Paul 64:15
Won’t it be ironic if the flag is made sacred—consecrated—and we write laws against its desecration at the same time we continue to steal taxpayer’s money to fund the National Endowment for the Arts which truly desecrates Christ and all of Christianity in the name of “free speech”?

1997 Ron Paul 64:16
The flag, indeed, is a loved patriotic symbol of American pride and freedom. Many of us, I for 5 years, have served our country in the military fighting for the principles of liberty, but not for the physical cloth of which the flag is woven.

1997 Ron Paul 64:17
There is confusion between the popular symbol and the real stuff, and in the process of protecting our symbols we are about to undermine the real stuff—liberty. The whole notion of legislating against desecration is vague and undefinable. Burning can be easily identified but shouldn’t it matter who paid for the flag? Are there no owners of the particular flag involved? Are all flags to be communal property? If we pretend flags are universally owned, that means we can use them randomly. If there is no individual ownership how can one sell or buy a flag? Should it not be a concern as to where the flag is burned and on whose property? With this legislation the flag will lose its identity as property and become a holy government symbol not to be desecrated? These are difficult questions but they must be answered.

1997 Ron Paul 64:18
Will using a flag as underwear or as a beach towel or a handkerchief or flying it upside down become a Federal crime?

1997 Ron Paul 64:19
The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars burn flags to dispose of them. This respectful ritual is distinguished from a hoodlum doing it only by the intent. Are we wise enough to define and legislate “intent” under all circumstances? Intent obviously implies an expression of a view. So Congress now feels compelled to police intentions, especially if seen as unpopular.

1997 Ron Paul 64:20
Whatever happened to the notion that freedom to express unpopular, even obnoxious views, including Marxist ideas was the purpose of guaranteeing freedom of expression. Of what value is protection of only popular and majority-approved opinions? That’s a mockery of liberty. Soviet citizens had that much freedom. Remember, dissidents who burned the Soviet flag were shot. A national flag police can only exist in a totalitarian state. We should have none of it.

1997 Ron Paul 64:21
Why not police the burning of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation? These acts, expressing a radical fringe view, would be as equally repugnant, and a case could be made they might be even more threatening because their attack would be precise and aimed at the heart of American liberty. The answer is the political mileage is with the flag and tough luck to those who have principled opposition.

1997 Ron Paul 64:22
But no one should even squirm or weasel out of the right vote, even if threatened with possible negative political fallout.

1997 Ron Paul 64:23
The right of free expression and the right to our property are inseparable. A free society cannot have one without the other. When one is compromised, so is the other. Concentrating on free expression while ignoring the importance of owning property sanctions taxpayer’s funding of the likes of the NEA and a Government propaganda machine like the one that permeates our schools from Head Start to the post graduate levels. By ignoring the taxpayers right to control all educational expenditures, property rights are violated.

1997 Ron Paul 64:24
When property rights are correctly honored, free expression is guaranteed through that right. The independence of a newspaper, radio station, or a church guarantees the use of that property in any free expression desired. Remember, no one has the right to use any newspaper, radio, or church to exert his or her own opinion as an example of “free speech.” Catholics have no “right” to say Mass in a Jewish temple. Certainly in our homes we are protected from others imposing their “free speech” on us. It’s the church property that guarantees freedom of religion. The networks or papers need not submit to demands to be heard by religious believers as an example of free speech. Use of the radio or newspaper by those with strong opinions or religious views is only done voluntarily with the permission of the owner.

1997 Ron Paul 64:25
Yes, it is very important who bought the flag and where it was when “desecrated.” What if it’s in a home or in a church for some weird reason? Do the police invade the premises? Who gets sent in: the BATF, the DEA, the FBI, the U.S. Army, or the flag police? If it’s on Government property or a Government flag or someone else’s flag, that is an attack on property and can be prosecuted. By legislating against how someone else’s flag is being used, the right of free expression and property ownership is infringed just as if it were church property or a newspaper.

1997 Ron Paul 64:26
We work diligently to protect controversial expression in books, television, movies, and even bizarre religious activities through the concept of private property ownership, as long as violence is not used. Is this matter much different?

1997 Ron Paul 64:27
We live in an age where it’s becoming more common to attack free expression and that’s a danger we should not ignore. We find one political group attacking expression that violates the subjective rules of politically correctness while working to prohibit voluntary prayer. Now another wants to curtail expression through flag antidesecration laws in the name of patriotism. But there is a better way to handle demonstrators and malcontents.

1997 Ron Paul 64:28
The danger here is that flag burners frequently express a disdain for big Government. Curtailing any expression of criticism of the Government is fraught with great danger. Will anyone who opposes big Government someday be identified as a “friend” of the flag burners and treated like one since he is expressing an idea similar to the flag burners. Just because some people aren’t smart enough to express themselves in any other way than flag burning, it does not justify the careless attack on freedom of expression. Once it’s routinely accepted that expressing these ideas is dangerous to the status quo, all our freedoms are threatened.

1997 Ron Paul 64:29
This is a dangerous and needless political exercise. Flag burning is not epidemic or even prevalent. Why must we continuously find dragons to slay? Whom are we trying to reassure? Why do we feel compelled to prove, by voting to change the Constitution, that we are true patriots? Could it be that Congress’ lack of vigilance in defending the Constitution has created a sense of guilt that must be purged. But will it really compensate for the endless shredding of the Constitution through legislation that has occurred throughout this century?

1997 Ron Paul 64:30
If we could spend one-tenth of the time on restoring the Founder’s intent in the Doctrine of Enumerated Powers that we have spent suppressing free expression I would be a happy person. Instead, we daily shred the intent of constitutional law by regulations, taxes, and abusing liberty to a point that the Constitution has no relevance. Maybe that’s it. If the Constitution has no current relevance, it’s assumed to be OK to mess it up even more with an amendment which will serve only to further undermine liberty and threaten free expression.

1997 Ron Paul 64:31
What the Congress, the Executive, and the Courts have done in the past 50 years to undermine the Constitution is many times more disgraceful and dangerous than what any two-bit punk flag burner can do—especially if we ignore him. If this amendment is passed, flag burners will get more attention, not less. Their cheap message will get more publicity than if we had ignored them. The goal of the flag burner will be enhanced by the amendment by this extra attention they gain.

1997 Ron Paul 64:32
This amendment will do nothing to restore trust in the Federal Government. It won’t fill the void left by the scandals, the perks, the plush pension program, the false promises of the welfare state, and pledges to balance future budgets. This amendment will do nothing to curtail Federal Government control over education, which indeed does infringe on free expression through Government indoctrination. Remember it was Government management of our schools in the name of free expression, which actually led to the prohibition of voluntary prayer.

1997 Ron Paul 64:33
We need to direct our patriotic zeal toward defending the Constitution and to the protection of liberty. Lack of this effort has led to the impending bankruptcy of the welfare/warfare state. Now there’s a problem worth directing our energies.

1997 Ron Paul 64:34
The flag police are no substitute for our policing our own activities and responsibilities here in the Congress. We are endlessly delivering more power, in the name of political emergencies, budgetary crisis, and Government efficiency, to the Executive—a process not permitted under the Constitution.

1997 Ron Paul 64:35
We permit Socialists to attack property rights and the fundamentals of economic liberty as a right under the Constitution. But those who profess respect for private property should not be trapped into attacking flag “property” when it’s used to express unpopular anti-Government views and even change the Bill of Rights to do so.

1997 Ron Paul 64:36
The Socialists know what they are doing but, the antidesecrators act out of confused emotions while responding to political pressures.

1997 Ron Paul 64:37
We should not further sacrifice freedom of expression with a flag amendment, especially when compared to the harm done with taxpayers funding of school propaganda and NEA desecration, it is negligible.

1997 Ron Paul 64:38
True patriots can surely match the wits of the jerks who burn flags, without undermining the first and fifth amendments. We can do better than rush to alter constitutionally protected free expression for a nonproblem.

1997 Ron Paul 64:39
We could easily organize bigger and grander demonstrations to celebrate our constitutional liberties for which the flag is our symbol in answer to the flag burners. I promise to appear, anytime and anyplace, to celebrate our liberties and countermand the flag burners who work so hard to offend us.


1997 Ron Paul Chapter 64
The title of this chapter was editorially supplied by the webmaster.
The text of this chapter was inserted into Congressional Record as an extension of remarks, and was not spoken on the House floor.