July 28, 1995

The Constitution

Rather than trying to get people to look at things more rationally, what The President and Congress did was to pass a law that essentially says that it is a crime to burn an American flag because it makes some people, who see the act, angry.

The law has not yet been enforced. If it were, it would almost certainly be found to be unconstitutional, even by our very conservative Supreme Court. The right of free expression is very fundamental to our legal system. Even obscenity, which is offensive to more people than flag burning, is protected by the constitution.

It will be a better world when that right of free expression is respected by all nations. Ours will be a better country if the people who run it also honor it. By passing that law, the members of congress showed, what we all know to be true, that most politicians will do anything for votes. They will even sell our freedom for votes.

Ira Pilgrim, 1990

Our House of Representatives has passed by more than the two-thirds majority needed, an amendment to The Constitution that prohibits the burning of an American flag. It now remains to be seen what The Senate will do. Are there 34 senators with enough respect for The Constitution to vote down this amendment? It will take some courage, because you can be sure that those who vote against it will be accused of favoring the desecration of The Flag, when they next face the electorate.

Our constitution is a remarkable document. It has worn extremely well over the 206 years of its existence. It was written as a plan for the governance of a nation. Its intent was to lay the framework for a free and stable government -not an easy task. When the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments, was added, it did the job that it was intended to do.

The Constitution and the Bill of Rights together take up 4 pages in my almanac. The amendments since then take less than 3 pages. How remarkable that is becomes evident when you contrast it to the California state constitution, which is a ponderous mess of legal gobbledygook.

Some of the amendments, such as presidential succession, have been administrative ones, made necessary by changing times. Others have been of major significance, such as woman's suffrage and the abolition of slavery.

Only one amendment was trivial, in that it placed into the constitution a law that forced one group of people's views on the rest. I am referring to the 18th amendment, which made the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors" illegal. It lasted a scant 16 years, when it was repealed by the 21st amendment. It should never have been placed in the constitution in the first place.

Placing an amendment prohibiting flag burning into the constitution not only trivializes The Constitution, but contradicts one of the most important provisions of The Constitution, the first amendment, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." I consider that sentence to be one of the finest and noblest ever written. It is the moral cornerstone of our system of government, as The Ten Commandments are the moral cornerstone of both Judaism and Christianity.

What makes the proposed amendment even more trivial is that no one has even thought of burning a flag since the days of the Viet Nam war. I know that I wouldn't have thought of it until this blatantly foolish amendment was proposed. I still don't find burning a flag to be a particularly desirable act, although the thought of burning a congressman or two has a distinct appeal right now.

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