June 23, 1997
The American flag is among the most important symbols of our freedoms. It stands for the rights which we cherish, among the most precious of which are those protected by the Bill of Rights of our Constitution. Freedom of speech – which protects the right to speak our political views no matter how unpopular they may be — is one of the most fundamental rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) believes that the principle of free speech protected by our Constitution and symbolized by our American flag is strong enough and precious enough to withstand even the most offensive speech. Among the truest tests of this principle is that even an act as abhorrent as burning or desecrating the flag is deserving of protection. To diminish that basic freedom in response to such acts would be to surrender to them.
The JCPA agrees wholeheartedly with Justice Brennan, who wrote in the 1989 case of Texas v. Johnson that flag-burning is protected speech because the “toleration of criticism… is a sign and source of our strength.” Since 1990 — when the Supreme Court struck down the Flag Protection Act of 1989 as an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech — we have opposed repeated efforts to amend the Bill of Rights to prohibit the burning of the flag.
Congress is again proposing to pass a constitutional amendment which will prohibit the desecration of the American flag. The House of Representatives has already approved that amendment by the two-thirds majority vote needed to send it to the states for ratification. The JCPA now reaffirms our opposition to this attempt to curtail the freedom of speech, and calls on the United States Senate and the American people to defeat this misguided and dangerous initiative and to support the Bill of Rights for which the flag stands.