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W. Gene Sizemore, 33, G.C.

The proposed amendment to the Constitution to protect the American flag from desecration is a case where personal rights must be tempered for the common good of society.


Order and law in a democracy are dependent on the will of the people. In recent years, increasing numbers of individuals and groups feel their cause justifies breaking the law. Desecrating the United States flag is only one case. In several incidents, anti-abortion extremists and civilian militias, for example, have replaced reasoned words with violent acts. Each fails to realize that personal rights must be tempered for the common good of society.

Logically and traditionally, absolute liberty of action must be curbed by law. Providing obscene material to children, crying “Fire!” in a crowded auditorium, deliberate dissemination of libel or slander---all are severely circumscribed by law. Each, if allowed, damages society too grievously to allow such action to exist as a personal right.

In the case of flag desecration, the denial of this right of extreme expression to a few benefits the common good of the many. The Supreme Court has ruled that the act of burning the American flag is guaranteed by our First Amendment right to free speech, such an act being seen as symbolic speech. The Founding Fathers who framed the United States Constitution and its Amendments were literate men whose concept of free speech centered on words as a vehicle for reasoned discourse. Flag burnings and other violent acts do not contribute to reasoned discussion. Rather, they push emotion to the fore and close off logic. In the past, such symbolic expression has lead to violence. The burning of books in fascist Germany, for instance, might have been defended as symbolic speech. Yet consider the result: racism fanned to a white heat and millions sacrificed to “the final solution.”

If injustice exists, it will be resolved by rational discourse leading to mutually acceptable solutions. Acts of violence, symbolic or otherwise, contribute to any existing problem. They do not solve it or move toward its solution.

Thus, for the common good and the preservation of our American constitutional system of balance, equity and reason, I support the Citizens Flag Alliance in its worthy endeavor to preserve our nation by protecting our national banner and preventing its deliberate desecration. This action benefits the common good while sustaining all appropriate freedoms and our American heritage of liberty under law.

The above article is the official testimony of Illustrious Sizemore, a member of the Board of Directors, The Citizens Flag Alliance, Inc., as submitted in April 1997 to the House Judiciary Subcommittee hearings on H.J. Res. 54, a constitutional amendment which would return to the American people the right to protect their flag.