Joey Johnson Speaks Out on Flag Amendment

Revolutionary Worker #912, June 22, 1997

The RW received the following press release.

Statement by Gregory Johnson, Defendant in the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court Flagburning Case (Texas v. Johnson), on the Proposed Constitutional Amendment to Prohibit Desecration of the U.S. Flag

Once again, a powerful coalition of Republicans and Democrats in Congress has introduced a proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution in order to "protect" the American flag from "acts of desecration." On June 12, the House approved the proposed "flag amendment." Now it goes to the Senate, and if it passes there, it then would require approval in the legislatures of three-quarters of the states.

I call upon people to stand up to this dangerous move to limit the rights of the people.

The backers of this amendment say it is about maintaining respect for the flag. Senator Orrin Hatch has said: "We have no king. We have no state religion. We have the American flag." But what this is really about is giving the government the power to attach one permissible meaning to the flag--and anyone who, through dramatic or expressive forms of protest, says the flag means something else...well, they can go to jail. In the name of "protecting" a "national symbol," the powers-that-be want to muzzle protest and criticism, to impose a "my country, right or wrong" mindset, and to create an atmosphere of intimidation against those who would speak out and act against this system's crimes.

This proposed flag amendment is an attempt both to limit the scope of political opposition and to enforce patriotism. It must be seen for what it is: a fascistic move to shut people up and shut people down under the cover of "respecting" the flag.

The amendment's backers call it a tiny incidental restriction on the First Amendment. But I think the "flag amendment" establishes a dangerous precedent: how far is it from saying people can't criticize or express contempt for a symbol of the government, to saying people can't criticize the government at all?

These are ominous developments that concern millions of people, far beyond those who might ever burn a flag.

The amendment's backers say they have the support of the majority of the American people. Whether this is true or not, I'm not that impressed. In the history of this country there have been historical wrongs that were accepted by the majority of the people for a time: slavery, segregation, the Vietnam War, just to name a few. But through immense political struggle and social upheaval, the majority eventually came to see these things as wrong.

This amendment has to be seen in its larger historical context. Forced reverence for the flag is part of the whole chauvinistic and scapegoating climate being whipped up in the U.S. today: whites first, traditional values first, English only. And all must worship the flag. Powerful political forces are worked up over what they describe as the "fragmentation" of America. They worry that immigrants are causing America to lose its "national identity." They bemoan the decline in respect for what Newt Gingrich has called the "values of American civilization." They complain about those who don't fit in: the immigrants, the welfare mothers, the Black youth, the alien "them's" out there threatening the decent "us." And what they are saying is that those who don't look, talk, or act like "us" are fair game for demonization and criminalization.

I find it both ironic and fitting that at a <%1>time when 200 Black and multiracial churches have been burned and when Confederate flags, the symbol of slavery, still fly over southern state capitals and universities, that a constitutional amendment is being considered to "protect" the American flag. We live in a sick and dying empire that is desperately clutching at its symbols.

In our flagburning cases that went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1989 and 1990, we defendants knew that even as we won both cases, the powers-that-be would not accept this outcome. Now the 1997 flag amendment proves us right, once again.

Whether you are someone who believes in "free speech," whether you are a Vietnam or Gulf War veteran who felt that the government used you to commit mass murder, or whether you are someone who believes the flag to represent certain ideals but who is opposed to mandatory patriotism --I call upon all who hate injustice to step forward and make your voices heard in opposition to this "flag amendment."


For further information, please contact Joey Johnson at telephone: (213) 368-6778.

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