[Congressional Record Volume 141, Number 193 (Wednesday, December 6, 1995)]
[Pages S18059-S18063]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]


  Mr. THURMOND. Mr. President, it is unfortunate that the Democrats 
will not let us get beyond the motion to proceed on Senate Joint 
Resolution 31, the proposed constitutional amendment to grant power to 
the Congress and the States, the power to prohibit the physical 
desecration of the flag of the United States. This is an important 
issue which should be submitted to the American people in the form of a 
proposed constitutional amendment.
  Mr. President, today we begin consideration of Senate Joint 
Resolution 31, a proposed constitutional amendment authorizing the 
Congress and the States to prohibit the physical desecration of the 
American flag. I am pleased 

[[Page S 18060]]
to be an original cosponsor of this proposal.
  In June of 1989, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in Texas versus 
Johnson which allows the contemptuous burning of the American flag. 
Immediately after that ruling, I drafted and introduced a proposed 
constitutional amendment to overturn the unfortunate decision.
  After bipartisan discussions with Members of the Senate and President 
Bush, the Senate voted on a similar proposal which I cosponsored. 
During this time, the Supreme Court ruled in United States versus 
Eichman that a Federal statute designed to protect the flag from 
physical desecration was unconstitutional. The Texas decision had 
involved a State statute designed to protect the flag.
  On June 26, 1990, the Senate voted 58-42 for the proposed 
constitutional amendment, nine votes short of the two-thirds needed for 
congressional approval.
  Opponents of this proposed amendment claimed it was an infringement 
on the free speech clause of the first amendment. However, the first 
amendment has never been construed as protecting any and all means of 
expressive conduct. Just as we are not allowed to falsely shout fire in 
a crowded theater or obscenities on a street corner as a means of 
expression, I firmly believe that physically desecrating the American 
flag is highly offensive conduct and should not be allowed.
  The opponents of our proposal to protect the American flag have 
misinterpreted its application to the right of free speech. Former 
Chief Justice Warren, Justices Black and Fortas are known for their 
tenacious defense of first amendment principles. Yet, they all 
unequivocally stated that the first amendment did not protect the 
physical desecration of the American flag. In Street versus New York, 
Chief Justice Warren stated, ``I believe that the States and the 
Federal Government do have the power to protect the flag from acts of 
desecration and disgrace.''
  In this same case, Justice Black, who described himself as a first 
amendment ``absolutist'' stated, ``It passes my belief that anything in 
the Constitution bars a State from making the deliberate burning of the 
American flag an offense.''
  Mr. President, the American people treasure the free speech 
protections afforded under the first amendment and are very tolerant of 
differing opinions and expressions. Yet, there are certain acts of 
public behavior which are so offensive that they fall outside the 
protection of the first amendment. I firmly believe that flag burning 
falls in this category and should not be protected as a form of speech. 
The American people should be allowed to prohibit this objectionable 
and offensive conduct.
  It is our intention with this proposed constitutional amendment to 
establish a national policy to protect the American flag from 
contemptuous desecration. The American people look upon the flag as our 
most recognizable and revered symbol of democracy which has endured 
throughout our history.
  I urge my colleagues to join the sponsors and cosponsors of this 
proposed constitutional amendment to protect our most cherished symbol 
of democracy. By adopting this proposal, we can submit this important 
question to the American people to decide if they believe that the flag 
is worthy of constitutional protection.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Does any Senator seek recognition?
  Mr. THURMOND. Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. BUMPERS. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order 
for the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Gregg). Without objection, it is so 
  Mr. BUMPERS. Mr. President, first let me commend my distinguished 
colleague from New Mexico, Senator Bingaman, for objecting to the 
motion to proceed to the constitutional amendment on flag desecration 
until roughly 18 ambassadors' nominations which are being held up are 
released. We all, around here, do what we feel we have to do to make a 
point. But we have extremely important ambassadorial posts going 
unfilled because of a dispute over a totally different item.
  I suppose it is that old saw ``the wheel that squeaks the loudest 
gets greased,'' is true, and I am not criticizing the Senator from 
North Carolina personally. He has a right to do whatever he wants to 
do. All I am saying is I do not believe the country's interests are 
being well served when someone like our distinguished former colleague, 
Senator Sasser, is prohibited from taking his post in China where we so 
desperately need representation, at this time especially.
  So, I hope the Senator from New Mexico will stand fast on it. I will 
do my best to help him with it. That is one logjam that needs to be 
  Mr. President, what I came to the floor to speak about is the 
proposed constitutional amendment dealing with flag desecration. I have 
voted on that a number of times since I have been in the Senate, have 
steadfastly opposed it every time it has been offered, and I will 
oppose it again today.
  When I think of the real problems of this Nation right now, and find 
this body dealing with this particular issue at this time, I am 
appalled. Motorola wants to build a big new facility and hire lots of 
people. They have elected to stay in this country and not go to 
Malaysia, and the only criterion they ask is that the applicants have a 
seventh grade knowledge of math, a fifth grade knowledge of English, 
and 50 percent of the applicants cannot meet that standard. The 
President of IBM says they spend $3 billion a year on remedial 
education. And you only need to look at the annual survey of high 
school seniors' heroes in this country to understand what they are 
learning about history, particularly the history of this country.
  So what are we doing? We are doing two things. No. 1, we are cutting 
education dramatically. Somewhere between 500,000 and a million 
youngsters will not get a college education under the budget 
reconciliation bill as it now stands. Those programs are going to be 
  I saw a bumper strip yesterday. I told my wife about it last night. 
She said she had seen it years ago. It said,

       I will be glad when the schools of this country and our 
     children get the money they need, and the Pentagon has to 
     hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.

  I have said many times, as I did during the debate on the space 
station, if you take the money you are putting in the space station and 
put it in education, I promise you the dividends will be 10 times 
greater. You take the $7 billion in the defense bill in excess of what 
the Pentagon asked for and put it in education, and I promise you your 
chances for peace are exponentially better.
  So here we are, as the Atlanta Constitution said, with a resolution 
searching for a problem. We are not here to deal with the real or even 
an imagined problem. Everybody here in this body knows that this is 
pure, sheer politics, with four flag burnings last year, and none this 
year. And we are going to tinker with the first amendment, with our 
cherished Bill of Rights, a document which we in good common sense have 
not seen fit to change one letter in 206 years?
  Where does this stuff come from? Why do people forever want to tinker 
with the most sacred document we know next to the Holy Bible? The 
people of the country show a great deal more common sense and respect 
for the Constitution than the Members of Congress do. In 206 years we 
have amended the Constitution only 27 times, 25 times when we consider 
the passage and repeal of Prohibition.
  Would you like to take a guess, Mr. President, at how many 
resolutions have been introduced in the Congress to amend the 
Constitution? More than 10,000. You think of it. So, thank God for the 
American people in their infinite wisdom. Otherwise, we would have 
10,000 changes in the Constitution of the United States. Happily, most 
people who offer resolutions here to amend the Constitution will issue 
a press release, beat themselves on the chest about how patriotic they 
are and how representative they are of the people back home, and that 
is the last you ever hear of it.
  At the risk of sounding slightly arrogant, the most neglected duty 
that a legislator is to be an educator. If you are not capable of going 
before a town 

[[Page S 18061]]
hall meeting and saying, yes, I voted against that bill and here is 
why, if you cannot stand for reelection and let the people decide if 
you really represent their views and the best interests of the Nation, 
if you are not willing to let them ask, ``Does the fact that he voted 
against the flag amendment mean he is not patriotic?,'' then you 
shouldn't be here. Does that apply to our distinguished colleague from 
Nebraska, Bob Kerrey, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, who lost a 
leg in Vietnam, who has said the revulsion we feel for somebody who 
would desecrate our flag is all we need to protect the flag? As long as 
99.9 percent of the people of this country are repulsed and find flag 
desecration repugnant, why do you want to change the first amendment?
  Let me repeat, Mr. President. The Bill of Rights is the most 
important part of the Constitution of the United States and the first 
amendment is first for a reason. That is what gives us our freedom of 
religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of press. And, Lord knows, I 
have trouble with that sometimes, but I wouldn't change it.
  I will tell you what the problem is. The problem is going home and 
facing our constituents. Who wants to go home and say, ``Yes, I voted 
against the defense budget?,'' knowing his next opponent will have a 
30-second spot saying he is soft on defense, or he is not patriotic? It 
takes a little courage around here. Courage is in very short supply.
  I know of one Senator, I will not name him, who is laying his 
political future on the line because he comes from a very conservative 
State, who has taken a stand against this amendment. Is that sort of 
courage not, after all, what the American people want? When somebody 
comes up to me on the streets of the towns and cities of my State and 
says, ``Why don't you guys screw up your nerve and do something 
courageous for a change?'', do you know how that translates? I will 
tell you exactly. What they are saying is, ``Why are you afraid to do 
something that is unpopular?'' It does not take courage to always do 
the popular thing.
  I do not denigrate the people of this country. But I know precisely 
how to vote, if I do not want to catch any flak when I go home. I would 
vote for that thing in a New York minute. But I just happen to believe 
in the Constitution. I consider it the document that is the glue that 
holds the fabric of this Nation together. And every time somebody says, 
well, I do not think you ought to spit on the flag, or burn the flag, 
or something else, I'm not ready to say, ``Let us amend the 
Constitution.'' I have said hundreds of times on the floor of this body 
in my 21 years here that when you start tinkering with the 
Constitution, I belong to the Wait Just a Minute Club.
  Down in Arkansas in 1919 the legislature passed a law saying you 
cannot do this and that and the other to the flag. Essentially, you 
cannot show disrespect for the flag. In 1941, 6 months before Pearl 
Harbor, old Joe Johnson, who lived out in Saint Joe up in the Ozark 
Mountains, ran afoul of that law. I guess Saint Joe has maybe 300 
people. The county seat was Marshall, AR. The woman who dispensed 
commodities to poor people at the courthouse had heard that there were 
a bunch of those Jehovah's Witnesses out at Saint Joe. Not only did 
they not believe like most good Christians, the Bible and their 
religious training was more important to them than the flag of the 
United States. Joe had a wife and eight children. And he goes into 
Marshall as he does on the first day of each month to get his 
commodities to feed his children.

  Now, you have to understand Saint Joe in that era of 1941, you have 
to understand the unspeakable poverty the people of the mountains lived 
in. So Mrs. Who Shall Remain Nameless, even though it was 1941--I am 
sure she is long since departed--says to Joe Johnson, ``We hear you 
have been drawing commodities for kids you ain't got.'' Joe says, 
``That's not true. I've got eight children. You're welcome to come out 
and see.'' She accepts that, and she says, ``We also understand that 
you belong to a sect called Jehovah's Witnesses.'' He said, ``That's 
correct.'' ``And we understand that you Jehovah's Witnesses don't 
respect our flag. And if you are going to draw commodities, I want you 
to stand up there and salute that flag.'' Joe says, ``I ain't going to 
do it. The Bible tells me that I don't salute any earthly thing except 
the Bible. That's my religious teaching.''
  There were quite a few people in that office, and Joe went ahead to 
make a speech. And during the course of his speech somebody testified 
at his trial that he had touched the flag. That was enough to find him 
guilty of disrespecting Old Glory. So they fined Joe $50 and gave him 
24 hours in jail. Then Joe took it to the Arkansas Supreme Court, and 
while it was on appeal, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. So Joe's 
conviction was upheld on a vote of 6 to 1.
  I remember well the Chief Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court--his 
son was a very dear friend of mine--dissented. He dissented, saying you 
cannot have a law like this. You cannot say that Joe has to choose a 
flag over his religion. He cited Oliver Wendell Holmes that the country 
must fight every effort to check the expression of loathsome opinions, 
unless they so threaten the country they had to be stopped to save it.
  ``The fact remains,'' Justice Smith wrote, ``that we're engaged in a 
war not only of men, machines and materials but in a contest wherein 
liberty may be lost if we succumb to the ideologies of those who 
enforce obedience through fear and who would write loyalty with a 
bayonet. If ignorance were a legal crime, this judgment would be 
just,'' he said. ``The suspicions and hatreds of Salem have ceased. 
Neighbor no longer inveighs against neighbor through the fear of the 
evil eye.''
  And the writer of this column says, ``The reasons for the misguided 
fears of 1942 are gone, but ignorance and intolerance are still with 
  I do not know what happened to me last night. I woke up at 2 o'clock, 
and I could not go back to sleep. I could see it was a futile thing to 
try, so I went downstairs where there were three small books I had 
checked out of the Library of Congress on the Salem witchcraft trials 
and on witchcraft in general. I read until 4:30, and I am tired right 
now because I did not get enough sleep last night.
  I started reading through the charges that used to be leveled long 
before Salem, back in the Middle Ages, and one thing I had not really 
thought about is that witchcraft trials were sexist. It was always the 
woman who was the witch. And a woman who lived to be 60 are 70 years 
old, might develop a haggard look. As we crossword puzzle junkies would 
say, she was a ``crone,'' and so the first thing you know, anybody who 
developed that sort of look was called a witch, riding a broom across 
the skies, if a child had a seizure in the community, she was very 
likely to be the first one accused of being a witch. In this little 
community of Salem Village in Massachusetts, in a 2-month period, 134 
people are accused of being witches.
  One of the books I was looking at last night had transcripts of the 
trial, believe it or not. Thirty-two were convicted, 19 either burned 
at the stake or hung. On what grounds? The testimony of 10-, 12-, 13-
year-old children. We have not had witchcraft trials in this country 
since. This comes close.
  I revere the flag. When I first came to the Senate, I went up in the 
Northeastern part of the country to one of the most prestigious 
universities in the country, and the rostrum was full. I guess they 
wanted to see what a new moderate Senator from the South looked like. 
The emcee got up and said, ``Let's all stand and say the Pledge of 
Allegiance.'' I would say that at least half of those kids refused to 
  I was pretty shocked, Mr. President. But I got to reflecting on how I 
first went off to college and how anxious I was to prove my 
independence. My father and mother could not tell me what to do any 
more. If I did not want to get up and say the Pledge of Allegiance, 
that was my privilege.
  I was insulted by it, and I did not like it. But I did not see 
anybody there I wanted to send to prison. Is that a legal crime? Why, 
of course, it is not. But I can tell you, I was offended by that, as I 
would be if somebody had walked out in front and spit on the flag.
  Is this desecration anyway? Desecration comes from the Latin root, I 
guess, which means sacred. 

[[Page S 18062]]

  So what is sacred? To some people the Bible is the only thing that is 
sacred. It was the only thing that was sacred to Joe Johnson. So people 
will come in here who do not any more believe in this amendment than a 
goon. And I hate to say this. There are a lot of Senators who will take 
you aside and deplore this amendment, and they will vote ``aye'' 
because they do not want to have to go home and talk to their 
  That is the risk you take. When I voted for the Panama Canal 
treaties, I was getting 3,000 calls a day against my position, and it 
has cost me dearly ever since. I do not mind telling you, if I had had 
a tough opponent in 1980, I would have probably been defeated. It was a 
very volatile issue. My pollster said in 1992 I still lost 3 percent of 
the vote because I voted for the Panama Canal treaties. It would have 
been so nice to have said no to that treaty.
  I am not saying that history has vindicated that vote, but I will say 
this: I think Panama would be in absolute chaos right now if we had not 
done it. But there was also something called the Golden Rule involved 
in my vote on that.
  So around here we vote for the flag amendment, we vote for an 
amendment to require prayer in school. I have noticed the Republicans, 
who thought term limits was the greatest thing since night baseball, 
they do not much like it anymore. I knew if they ever got control, term 
limits would die a fast death.
  The line-item veto: I have never been for it; I will never be for it. 
We finally got it this year. What happens? Bill Clinton is in the White 
House, so we cannot even get the conferees appointed. Boy, if there 
ever was a time I might support the line-item veto, it would be right 
now. But I am not going to support it. I never have and I never will, 
because it is a bad idea. The Republicans do not like it either when 
Bill Clinton is in the White House.
  Everybody runs on family values. Who wants to face a 30-second spot 
saying, ``He says he's for family values, but look how he voted on 
prayer in school, look how he voted on this, look how he voted on 
that.'' Everybody around here jumps under their desk every time one of 
these controversial issues comes up. Who wants to say, ``I'm not for 
that new star wars program''? And people come by and say, ``He doesn't 
even want to defend the people of this country against a missile 
attack.'' Oh, would that that were all there is to the issue.
  Mr. President, if this amendment were adopted and we chose for the 
first time in 206 years to, in my opinion, sully the Constitution of 
the United States and the most sacred part of the Bill of Rights, it 
would not increase my patriotism any. I would not get goose bumps any 
more than I did at the Kennedy Center Sunday night. This magnificent 
orchestra played ``The Star Spangled Banner.'' I cannot stand the way I 
hear it sung most of the time. I am an old band man and marine, and I 
love the way the Marine Band plays ``The Star Spangled Banner.'' I wish 
everybody would play it that way and sing it that way.
  At the Kennedy Center, this orchestra played ``The Star Spangled 
Banner,'' and one of the honorees was Marilyn Horne. There were a lot 
of other opera singers there, and they sang ``The Star Spangled 
Banner,'' and it just took the roof off. I promise you, all the people 
there had goose bumps. It was exhilarating and thrilling and exciting.
  So if you had this flag amendment, do you think people there would 
have gotten any more goose bumps? You know what we do when we adopt 
this? We take a freedom away from people and create a class of 
political prisoners. We will imprison people.
  You know what the amendment says. The amendment says the States and 
Congress may prohibit desecration of the flag. They will determine what 
desecration is. One State will charge you with a $15 misdemeanor fine; 
another State will give you the death penalty; another State pins a 
medal on you for it. What kind of nonsense are we into here? Every 
State would decide for itself a constitutional issue: what constitutes 
desecration of the flag?
  Coming back from Arkansas last weekend, I counted three people, two 
men and a woman, whose shirts were made out of the American flag. What 
are you going to do with them, Mr. President? Are you going to haul 
them off like Joe Johnson, put them in jail? Well, maybe one State says 
you put them in jail, another State says you cannot do that. You go 
into a bar and you get a drink and there is a swizzle stick to mix your 
drink with a flag on the end of it. What are you going to do with that 
bartender, the owner of that bar? On the Fourth of July, the entire 
front page of the paper is the American flag, every one of them going 
into the trash before sundown. What are you going to do about that, Mr. 
  How about the used-car lot that has an American flag sticking up on 
every antenna? Do you ever suspect for a moment, Mr. President, that 
these car lots with these massive displays of flags are designed to 
convince you that the owner of that place is a patriot? Some people 
would see it as the opposite: commercialization of the flag.
  While we are covering desecration, why do we not also cover 
commercialization of the flag or using the flag for commercial 
purposes? And then, what is physical desecration? Does that mean you 
have to spit on it, tear it, burn it? What is physical desecration?
  I tell you what it is, Mr. President. It is whatever each one of the 
50 States say it is. You will have 50 different definitions of what 
used to be a precious, protected freedom of political speech in the 
Constitution of the United States, and then Congress will also weigh in 
so you will have 51.
  We already have protection of the flag. The Supreme Court has already 
said fighting words, acts calculated to create a violence can be 
considered to be illegal.
  Mr. President, let me ask you, what kind of company are we going to 
be in? I have two grandchildren. And like we did with our own children, 
Betty and I put them on our laps, and we go through Highlights looking 
for hidden pictures, all those other little games. One of the 
Highlights games is always, ``What is out of place in this picture?'' 
It will have 8 or 10 things. One obviously does not fit, it is out of 
place, out of character.
  Here is a chart. And taken from Highlights magazine is ``One of these 
things is not like the others.'' Look at it. I ask you, which one is 
not like the others? Here you have Germany which in 1932 passed a law 

       Whoever publicly profanes the Reich or one of the states 
     incorporated into it, its constitution, colors or flag or the 
     German Armed Forces, or maliciously and with premeditation 
     exposes them to contempt, shall be punished by imprisonment. 
     Nazi Germany. You cannot say anything about it, you cannot 
     talk about it, you cannot desecrate the flag, the 
     constitution or much of anything else.

  The Soviet Union, 2 years in the gulag. The Soviet Union, 2 years in 
the gulag for desecration of the flag.
  China, 3 years.
  Iraq, 7 years.
  And not to be outdone, Iran, 10 years.
  South Africa, 5 years and a fine during apartheid.
  Cuba, old Fidel is not as tough as these other guys; only 3 months 
and a fine in Cuba.
  Syria, 6 years.
  There they all are. And in the center is Old Glory. Is this the crowd 
we want to join? We are going to wind up giving up a lot more freedom 
than we are going to get.
  Mr. President, I have been amazed at where a lot of conservative 
writers are on this issue. Charles Krauthammer--I do not read him. I do 
not care for his articles, and I never read him. He thinks this is pap 
  George Will, Cal Thomas, and other conservatives.
  Senator Mitch McConnell, from Kentucky, had a column in yesterday's 
Post, and I thought it was absolutely superb. He quoted a veteran, a 
man named Jim Warner, an American patriot who fought in Vietnam and 
survived more than 5 years of torture and brutality as a prisoner of 
the North Vietnamese. Here is what he said:

       We don't need to amend the Constitution in order to punish 
     those who burn our flag. They burn the flag because they hate 
     America, and they're afraid of freedom. What better way to 
     hurt them than with the subversive idea of freedom. Spread 

  When a flag in Dallas was burned to protest the nomination of Ronald 
Reagan, he told us how to spread the idea of freedom when he said:

       We should turn America into a city shining on the hill, a 
     light to all nations. Don't be 

[[Page S 18063]]
     afraid of freedom, it is the best weapon we have.

  You do not hear me quote Ronald Reagan very often, but that was 
  And finally, to quote our old friend Will Rogers, and I will close 
with this:

       When Congress gets the Constitution all fixed up, they're 
     going to start on the Ten Commandments, just as soon as they 
     can find somebody in Washington that's read them.

  I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. GRAMS. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for 
the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
  Mr. GRAMS. Mr. President, I rise today to join my colleagues in 
support of Senate Joint Resolution 31. I did not come to the floor to 
cite case law or precedent or to dispute the predictions and the 
pronouncements of the constitutional scholars. I will leave that to the 
lawyers in this Chamber. But I came here to tell you what I believe in 
my heart as an average American, the son of a veteran, the kind of 
person who puts his hand across his chest during the national anthem 
and gets a lump in his throat during parades when the Stars and Stripes 
go by.
  What is it about this multicolored piece of cloth that inspires such 
emotion? Perhaps it is the high price this Nation has paid for the 
honor of flying it.
  Fifty-three thousand Americans gave their lives defending this piece 
of cloth in World War I; 292,000 Americans in the Second World War; 
33,000 Americans in Korea; 47,000 Americans in Vietnam; most recently, 
138 Americans gave their lives defending this piece of cloth in the 
Persian Gulf war.
  And when the bodies of those defenders of freedom were returned home, 
it was this piece of cloth atop their caskets that caught and cradled 
the tears of their loved ones.
  In my heart, I know that the men and women who sacrificed everything 
they had to give on behalf of this flag and the ideals it represents 
would be heartsick to see it spit upon, trampled over, burned, 
  This is so much more than just another piece of cloth.
  Mr. President, in a nation like ours that celebrates diversity, there 
is little that ties us together as a people. We come from different 
nationalities. We practice different religions. We belong to different 
races. We live in different corners of this immense Nation, speak 
different languages, eat different foods. There is so much that should 
seemingly divide us. But under this flag, we are united.
  Far from being just a piece of cloth, the flag of the United States 
of America is a true, national treasure. Because of everything it 
symbolizes, we have always held our flag with the greatest esteem, with 
reverence. That is why we fly it so high above us. When the flag is 
aloft, it stands above political division, above partisanship.
  Under this flag, we are united. And Americans are united in calling 
for a constitutional amendment allowing them to protect their flag.
  When you ask them if burning the U.S. flag is an appropriate 
expression of freedom of speech, nearly four out of every five 
Americans say no, it is not. In my home State of Minnesota, nearly 70 
percent of my neighbors support Senate Joint Resolution 31, and have 
called on Congress to pass it this year.
  Mr. President, there is no Minnesotan who has been more vocal in this 
fight than Daniel Ludwig of Red Wing, and I am so proud of his efforts. 
Just this summer, Mr. Ludwig had the great honor of being elected 
National Commander of the American Legion during the organization's 
77th annual national convention.
  Mr. Ludwig knows what the flag means to the soldiers and veterans of 
the American Legion. He is a Vietnam-era veteran of the U.S. Navy who 
spent 8 years in the military, and he told me that passage of the 
amendment we debate today remains the American Legion's No. 1 priority.
  ``We are so close to victory,'' he said. ``Protecting the American 
flag from desecration can be our greatest victory.''
  It has been too long in coming.
  Since 1989, the year the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws 
banning desecration of the flag, 49 of our 50 States have passed 
resolutions directing Congress and their State legislators to support a 
flag protection amendment.
  Our legislation restores to the States the right snatched away from 
them by the court to enact flag-protection laws. It does not force the 
States into action. It does not set punishments. It says simply that 
``the Congress and the States shall have power to prohibit the physical 
desecration of the flag of the United States.''
  This amendment returns to the people the power to pass the flag-
protection laws they feel are appropriate for their communities.
  Of course, there are those who are opposed to this amendment, 
individuals who do not believe the people can be entrusted with the 
responsibility of amending the Constitution. They think Congress should 
play the role of protector, a guardian body that exists to save the 
people from their own foolishness.
  It is not something we enter into recklessly, but it is the right of 
the people to amend their own Constitution. Our Founding Fathers were 
wise enough to understand that times and circumstances change, and a 
Constitution too rigid to bend with the times was likely to break. They 
created the amendment process for that very purpose. We amend the 
Constitution when circumstances tell us we must.
  Mr. President, we need this amendment because the soul of our society 
seems to have been overtaken by the tennis-shoe theology of ``just do 
  If it feels good, just do it. Forget about obligation to society. 
Forget about personal responsibility. Forget about duty, honor, 
country. ``If it feels good, just do it,'' they say.
  If it makes you feel good to burn a flag, just do it. After all, it 
is just a piece of cloth.
  Just a piece of cloth? Tell that to the men, women, and children who 
each day stand before the black granite walls of the Vietnam Veterans 
Memorial, tearfully tracing with their finger the name of a loved one 
chiseled deep into the stone.
  Tell that to the veterans of the Korean war, who have come by the 
thousands to their new memorial just across the reflecting pool. They 
see the statues of the soldiers, poised in a battle march, the horror 
of war forever frozen in the hardened steel, and they remember those 
who did not come back.
  Tell it to the veterans of World War I and World War II, who each 
year don their uniforms for the annual Veteran's Day parades. Time may 
have slowed their march and stiffened their salute, but it has not 
diminished their passion for the flag.
  To say that our flag is just a piece of cloth--a rag that can be 
defiled and trampled upon and even burnt into ashes--is to dishonor 
every soldier who ever fought to protect it. Every star, every stripe 
on this flag was bought through their sacrifice.
  Mr. President, as I walked to the Capitol this morning and saw the 
flags on either side of the great dome flapping in a gentle breeze, I 
knew I could not stand here today, cold and analytical, and pretend I 
did not have a stake in this emotional debate.
  It is average Americans like me who cannot understand why anyone 
would burn a flag. It is Americans like me who cannot understand why 
the Senate would not act decisively, overwhelmingly, to pass an 
amendment affording our flag the protection it deserves.
  I know in my heart that this simple piece of cloth is worthy of 
constitutional protection, and I urge my colleagues to search their own 
hearts and support Senate Joint Resolution 31.
  I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. BROWN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for 
the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. THOMPSON). Without objection, it is so