[Congressional Record Volume 146, Number 37 (Wednesday, March 29, 2000)]
[Pages S1855-S1856]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                       FLAG DESECRATION AMENDMENT

  Mr. DODD. Mr. President, I rise today in opposition to the resolution 
which will be before us later this afternoon dealing with the issue of 
flag burning. I will spend a few minutes to express to my colleagues 
and to others who may be interested at least my point of view on this. 
We have debated it in this Chamber a number of times over the past 
decade or more. We have it before us again today. I wish to take a few 
minutes to explain my views on this issue and how I intend to vote when 
the matter comes before us.
  This is no ordinary resolution. It is no ordinary debate. When we 
speak of amending the Bill of Rights of our Constitution, we ought to 
do so with great care.
  Our Bill of Rights has existed now for more than 200 years, and, 
despite literally thousands of proposals to amend it, our forebearers, 
and those who occupied this Chamber over the years, saw fit to not on a 
single occasion amend the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. It 
is a remarkable record when you consider the trials and tribulations 
this Nation has been through--a great depression, great world wars, a 
great civil war which ravaged this Nation. Despite more than 11,000 
attempts to amend the Constitution--many of them to amend the Bill of 
Rights--none of our predecessors, and none of the Congresses that have 
preceded us, saw fit during all of those great trials and tribulations 
to amend the Bill of Rights of the United States.
  Today, we are being asked to change that 209-year history and to 
amend the Bill of Rights to deal with the outrageous, indefensible 
behavior of those who would burn the symbol of our freedom, the symbol 
of our Constitution, the symbol of our democracy, the great flag of the 
United States. It goes without saying that every Member of this Chamber 
and the other body, and the overwhelming majority of Americans would 
find flag burning offensive and abhorrent. As many of our colleagues, I 
believe it ought to be a crime--whether it is criminal intent to incite 
violence or commit a theft. But to truly honor our Nation's history and 
the veterans, we must not only protect our flag but, in my view, we 
must also protect the Constitution and the freedoms promised by that 
  Our former colleague, Senator John Glenn of Ohio, who served this 
Nation as a combat pilot in Korea, as an astronaut, and as Senator, 
well known to most Americans, well known by all of our colleagues, put 
it very well. I would like to quote it: ``There is one way to weaken 
the fabric of your country, and it is not through a few misguided souls 
burning our flag. It is by retreating from the principles that the flag 
stands for. And that will do more damage to the fabric of our Nation 
than 1,000 torched flags could ever do. . . . History and future 
generations will judge us harshly, as they should, if we permit those 
who would defile our flag to hoodwink us into also defiling our 
Constitution. The Framers of the Constitution, in their boundless 
wisdom and notable humility, understood that succeeding generations may 
see fit to amend this cornerstone document. But those amendments should 
be limited, in James Madison's words, to ``great and extraordinary 

  Regrettably, Madison's edict has not been heeded by many who have 
come after him. In this Congress alone, more than 50 proposed 
amendments to the Constitution have been introduced--including one to 
make it easier to amend the Constitution in the future.
  But collectively our Nation has paid heed to the caution urged by 
Madison and others of his day. It is reassuring to know that, of the 
11,000 amendments introduced since ratification of the Bill of Rights 
209 years ago, only 17 have been adopted.
  Clearly, there is no great and extraordinary occasion warranting 
ratification of the amendment proposed in the Senate today. Flag 
burning is rare, thank God. It is despicable. It is reprehensible. But 
it does not present a constitutional crisis for our Nation.
  Indeed, in the entire history of our Nation, there have been only 
about 200 reported incidents of flag burning, an average of less than 
one a year for each of our Nation's history--one a year, 200 cases in a 
nation of 260 million people today. And we have less than roughly one 
case a year for the 200-year history of our Nation.
  I would submit that the despicable acts of a few misguided miscreants 
do not cry out for this Congress to be the first in history to restrict 
the liberties of all Americans by narrowing the Bill of Rights.
  Some argue that even one flag burned would be enough to warrant 
ratification of this proposed amendment. They say that, without such an 
amendment, we effectively sanction flag-burning. But toleration is not 
approval. We do not as a nation sanction everything which we do not 
punish. Indeed, I would submit that the heart of the greatness of our 
democracy is that we tolerate that which we disapprove of. We permit 
and protect that which we find most offensive and obnoxious. They will 
continue, and probably grow, unfortunately, in number in a disgraceful 
effort to attract attention to themselves. What will such a possibility 
portend for the respect we all have for our beloved Constitution?

[[Page S1856]]

  I do not for a moment question the intentions of those who support 
the resolution before us. I respect most, if not all, of the people who 
are advocating this change. But, in my view, let us be clear. No 
amendment and no amount of amendments to the Constitution will in and 
of themselves result in greater respect for the flag and for the free 
and democratic nation that it symbolizes. You cannot mandate nor 
legislate patriotism. You carry it in your heart and soul. But I cannot 
write it for you. I cannot force it down the throats of the citizens I 
represent. We can change laws but we cannot change hearts by changing 
laws. We can only attempt to change conduct and to enshrine in our laws 
the eternal principles that have guided our Nation from its earliest 
days--principles such as liberty and equality.
  Let us leave to statutory law--those already on the books, and those 
along the lines proposed by several of our colleagues--to sanction 
those who would with criminal intent burn our beloved flag. But let us 
leave the Constitution unsullied by a proposal such as this that would 
needlessly, in my view, restrict our liberties as a people.
  The great genius of our Constitution is that it enshrines in word the 
eternal aspirations of humanity. We may try to amend it, but if we do 
so in a manner at odds with those aspirations, then we act at our peril 
and in folly.
  As Alexander Hamilton said:

       The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, 
     among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as 
     with a sunbeam in the whole volume of human nature, by the 
     hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or 
     obscured by mortal power.

  Let us not trifle with the Bill of Rights, a document that has never 
been changed, not one comma, not one semicolon, not one word, in 210 
years of history. Let us not change that today over this issue.
  I urge the defeat of this resolution.
  I yield the floor and I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. L. Chafee). The clerk will call the roll.
  The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. SMITH of New Hampshire. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent 
that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Hagel). Without objection, it is so 
ordered. The Senator from New Hampshire.
  Mr. SMITH of New Hampshire. I thank the Chair.
  (The remarks of Mr. Smith of New Hampshire pertaining to the 
introduction of S. 2314 are located in today's Record under 
``Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions.'')