"Everybody here in this body knows that this is pure, sheer politics"
A candidate's position
on constitutional amendments to ban flag-burning and outlaw "abortion on demand" appear likely to be top issues this election year, as advocates for both causes reminded Congress last month.
"See you in November," was the response by Citizens Flag Alliance, an umbrella group of more than 100 organizations lobbying the Senate to vote for a flag protection amendment. The Senate defeated the proposed amendment on December 12 by a vote of 63-36.
The flag amendment, which passed the House overwhelmingly last April, was the subject of a fierce debate on the Senate floor as main sponsor Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and other supporters sought the 66 votes needed.
Democrats and moderate Republicans opposed the amendment strongly. "When I think of the real problems of this nation right now ... I'm appalled," Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Arkansas), said. "Everybody here in this body knows that this is pure, sheer politics."
In a long rebuttal on December 8, Hatch singled out Bumpers' comments. "One of my colleagues from Arkansas says we are here because of 'pure, sheer politics.' Evidently, some opponents of the amendment believe there is only one side to this argument, and everybody else must be playing politics. Tell that to Rose Lee, a Gold Star Wife and past president of the Gold Star Wives of America.
"She testified in support of this constitutional amendment to prevent desecration of the American flag, our national symbol. She testified in support of this amendment on June 6, 1995, before the Constitution Subcommittee, and brought with her the flag that had draped her husband's coffin... go tell Rose Lee she supports the flag protection amendment out of pure, sheer politics."
Besides the veteran's widow, Hatch involked the names of his brother who died in WWII, both his dead parents, a man who survived the Dachau concentration camp, the apostle Paul, and many others. (The complete speech is available in our commentary section.)
After devoting December 8th to the debate, the flag amendment came to a final vote on December 12 with Hatch again defending the propsal, noting that Congress has limited free speech in other situations, such as prohibiting child pornography. Burning a flag, Hatch said, is "not free speech. It's offensive conduct."
The amendment fell just three votes short of the two-thirds necessary for passage. California Senator Barbara Boxer voted against the amendment, but Dianne Feinstein voted for it. Feinstein also voted for the amendment last July, when as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, she joined Republicans in supporting the amendment.
Hatch vowed to try again in "1997 or 1998," shortly after the Citizens Flag Alliance promised members of Congress voting against the amendment that they would "see you in November."
Abortion and "religious equality" amendments also proposed
than a week after the flag amendment vote, the anti-abortion amendment became news again as Senator Bob Dole wrote to Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed, reaffirming his support for a constitutional amendment to ban "abortion on demand." A constitutional restriction on abortion has been part of the GOP platform since 1980.
Dole's letter to the Christian Coalition came after Reed accused the Senator of a "stunning reversal" on his position. During a December 17 edition of NBC's "Meet the Press," Dole said that he would not support a constitutional amendment to ban all abortions. After the Christian Coalition protested, Dole wrote to Reed that he still supports a constitutional amendment restricting abortion "subject to the widely-accepted exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother."
As described in an earlier article, extremists in the Republican Party have threatened to split from the GOP and offer their own presidential candidate unless nominees for both president and vice-president strongly support criminalizing abortion.
Also under debate is a new "religious equality" constitutional amendment, introduced on November 15 by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Illinois). This amendment is supported by the National Association of Evangelicals, Family Research Council, and the Christian Legal Society.
The preamble for this amendment states it is intended to "secure the unalienable right of the people to acknowledge, worship, and serve their Creator, according to the dictates of conscience." The text of the amendment states that "Neither the United States nor any State shall deny benefits to or otherwise discriminate against any private person or group on account of religious expression, belief, or identity; nor shall the prohibition on laws respecting an establishment of religion be construed to require discrimination against anyone on account of their religious belief."
According to an analysis by People for the American Way, the proposed amendment would require the government to fund religion just as it funds secular activities. Persons of any purported faith, even the neo-Nazi Christian Identity movement, could be entitled to taxpayer dollars to promote their beliefs.
Under this proposal, says People for the American Way, students allowed to plan compulsory assemblies on, for example, college admissions or career opportunities, would also have a constitutional right to hold a mandatory assembly promoting the sectarian beliefs of any religion or sect, regardless of how offensive and hurtful such a program might be to other children. School assemblies would become competitive ground for students of various faiths to organize and present programs promoting sectarian religious views.
As further examples, public school principals could organize, and pressure students to participate in before and after-school religious events, such as "see you at the flag pole" meetings. Athletic team coaches would be given a constitutional right to recruit students for religious worship or other activities. Government employers would be permitted to aggressively solicit the participation of their employees in Bible clubs or religious instruction, according to the analysis.
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