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Veterans Urge Legal Ban on Flag Burning : But Groups Are Not United in Support for Altering Constitution

From Times Wire Services

Veterans organizations today called on Congress to overturn a Supreme Court decision that allows flag burning, but they were not monolithic in their support of a constitutional amendment.

“Choose whatever course of action is best for our nation and our flag and you will have the support of the Disabled American Veterans,” said John Heilman, the DAV’s national legislative director.

Heilman’s openness to a regular statute to address the court ruling was at odds with representatives of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who told a House Judiciary subcommittee that nothing less than an amendment to the Constitution would be satisfactory.

Poll Finds Amendment Support

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“We must rally ‘round our flag and pursue a constitutional amendment prohibiting the physical desecration of that flag,” said H. F. (Sparky) Gierke, the legion’s national commander. A poll commissioned by the legion found 75% of Americans believe that such an amendment would not impinge on their constitutional rights, he said.

“Freedom of expression can and should co-exist with a sense of reverence for the flag and all that it means to Americans,” James Magill, national legislative director of the VFW, told the constitutional law subcommittee.

But James Warner, a former Marine flight officer who was shot down and wounded in Vietnam and held as a prisoner of war for 5 1/2 years, noted that while desecrating the flag caused him “immeasurable pain,” he believed that the Constitution should not be tampered with because that might erode First Amendment free speech protections.

‘First Step’ Opposed

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“If we do this once, other causes will soon be found which cry for further amendment, until no trace of the Bill of Rights shall be discoverable,” Warner said. “We must not take this first step.”

After four days of hearings, including two days of testimony from legal scholars, the House panel remained divided over how to overcome a Supreme Court decision on flag burning.

The liberal Democrats on the panel remain adamantly opposed to a constitutional amendment and the Republicans vow to push it through.

Statute Urged

“The idea of a constitutional amendment has been damaged severely in these hearings so far,” subcommittee Chairman Don Edwards (D-San Jose) said Wednesday.

He and other Democrats said they were persuaded by the experts to seek a regular statute over any amendment.

But senior committee Republican F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin said: “How can we enact a statute to ban such flag burnings . . . which does not relate to the suppression of free expression? It’s a puzzle to me how you can get around that.”


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