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Home > SPJ News > Constitutional amendment threatens free speech

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Constitutional amendment threatens free speech

SPJ News
9/18/1998


An amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving Congress the power to outlaw desecration of the U.S. flag is ill-conceived and a threat to freedom of speech, said the president of the 13,000-member Society of Professional Journalists.

“Proponents of an amendment to prohibit desecration of the flag of the United States are unwitting desecrators themselves -- of the protections in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States,” said SPJ President Fred Brown, political editor of The Denver Post.

A poll showing widespread popular support for such an amendment was released Wednesday in Washington, D.C. But Brown said members of Congress should pay more attention to the traditions on which the nation was founded.

“The Society of Professional Journalists joins others who understand the real meaning of the Constitution in decrying attempts to dilute the freedoms the United States has embraced and lived by for more than 200 years,” the SPJ
president said in a statement.

“The flag is a symbol of what this nation stands for. Among those things — arguably the most important of them -- is freedom of expression. Certainly, burning or otherwise desecrating the flag is an odious way to express one's
self. But it has fallen on lean times as a means of protest. It was quite the fad among the politically irate during the Vietnam War, but if there’s much of it going on now, it certainly isn’t obvious.

“This recent public-relations campaign seems like a knee-jerk reaction that has taken a generation to assert itself,” Brown continued.

"And 'desecration' is a dangerously imprecise term. The flag is ubiquitous, showing up on everything from motorcycle jackets to running short. One patriot's desecration might be another patriot's decoration.

“The flag amendment is ill-behaved. To answer puerile behavior with oppressive restrictions is an overreaction, plays into the hands of the desecrators, and makes the solution immeasurably worse than the problem,” Brown said.

“The Society of Professional Journalists, whose 13,000 members make it the nation’s largest association of journalists, urges the members of Congress to resist amending the Constitution, one of this nation’s most sacrosanct and successful documents,” he concluded.

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