Recent Press Releases

Washington, D.C. —  Sen. John Thune today introduced a Constitutional Amendment to protect the American flag, seeking to protect a universal symbol of freedom and a reminder of what veterans have sacrificed to defend it.

“When brave Americans risk life and limb defending our flag abroad, they should know the flag is safe at home,” Thune said. “The American flag is a symbol of freedom and a constant reminder of those who died defending it. Out of respect for our men and women in uniform and our veterans, the flag should be protected.”

Thune co-sponsored the Amendment with a bipartisan group of senators, including Senators Hatch, Feinstein, Talent, and 47 other Senators. Thune said the strong bipartisan endorsement behind the Amendment and overwhelming public support would be critical to passing the Amendment.

“Given the strong bipartisan support for this issue in Congress and throughout the nation, I am hopeful we can enact this important Amendment,” Thune said. “The American people overwhelmingly believe the American flag should be protected. I am introducing this Amendment so those who have bravely defended our nation in the past – and those defending it today – can have the flag protected.”

Members of Congress have worked since 1989 to protect the American flag, after the United States Supreme Court, in Texas v. Johnson, found a right within the Constitution that never before existed -- the right to desecrate the American flag. A Constitutional Amendment with 41 Senate co-sponsors was introduced in the 108th U.S. Congress, but was not acted upon by the full Senate.



April 14, 2005

Thank you Mr. President. Today, it is my distinct honor and privilege to rise and speak on behalf of Senator Hatch, Senator Feinstein, Senator Talent, myself and 47 other Senators, as we introduce bi-partisan legislation we believe to be long overdue. It is not reform legislation. It does not authorize new government programs, create new sources of tax revenue or provide incentives to stimulate our economy. It is none of those things. But it is a matter of great importance ……the events of 9/11 have reminded us all of that. It is, instead, legislation that speaks to the core of our beliefs and hopes as a nation, and as a people. It is about a national treasure and a symbol of our country that the vast majority of Americans – and the majority of this great body, I might add – believe is worth special status and worthy of protection. It is about the American Flag.

Mr. President, our American flag is more than mere cloth and ink. It is a symbol of the liberty and freedom that we enjoy today thanks to the immeasurable sacrifices of generations of Americans who came before us. It represents the fiber and strength of our values and it has been sanctified by the blood of those who died defending it.

I rise today, Mr. President, to call upon all members of this body to support a Constitutional Amendment that would give Congress the power to prohibit the physical desecration of the American flag. It would simply authorize, but not require, Congress to pass a law protecting the American flag. This amendment does not affect anyone’s right to express their political beliefs. It would only allow Congress to prevent our flag from being used as a prop - to be desecrated in some ways simply not appropriate to even mention in these halls.

This resolution and similar legislation have been the subject of debate before this body before. There is, in fact, a quite lengthy legislative history regarding efforts to protect the American Flag from desecration. In 1989, the Supreme Court declared essentially that burning the American flag is “free speech.” I think that is a decision the American people should make, particularly when this country finds itself fighting for democracy and expending American lives for that cause, on battlefields overseas.

South Dakota veterans and members of the armed forces from my state know exactly what I’m talking about, as I’m sure they do from every state. In recent months, units of the 147th field artillery and 153rd engineer battalions of the South Dakota National Guard returned home after spending a difficult year in Iraq. Likewise, the 452nd ordinance company of the United States Army Reserve is preparing to depart for Iraq in September. My father, like many other veterans of World War II, understands the importance of taking this step. Veterans from across South Dakota have asked me to step up and defend the flag of this great nation and today I am answering that call.

Today, members of both political parties will introduce a proposed constitutional amendment that would give back to the American people the power to prevent the desecration of the American Flag. We know the gravity of this legislation. There is nothing complex about this amendment, nor are there any hidden consequences. This amendment provides Congress with the power to outlaw desecration of the American Flag, a right that was widely recognized by Madison, Jefferson, and Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, one of the foremost advocates of First Amendment freedoms. Most states officially advocate Congress passing legislation to protect the Flag. Frankly, I do not see this as a First Amendment issue. It is an attempt to restore the traditional protections to the symbol cherished so dearly by our government and the people of the United States. Some acts are not accepted as “free speech” even in societies like ours where we consider free speech a cherished right. For example, an attempt to burn down this capital building as a political statement would never be viewed as someone’s right of free speech. Our laws would not tolerate the causing of harm to other’s property or life as an act of “free speech.” Well, this flag happens to be the property of the American people in my opinion, and I believe this question should be put before the states and their people to decide how and if to protect it. I think the answer will come back as a resounding “yes”.

There is little doubt that the debate over state ratification will trigger a tremendous discussion over our values, beliefs and whether we will ultimately bestow a lasting honor on our traditions. Importantly, it will be an indication of how we recognize our servicemen and women who are sacrificing - right now – in Iraq and Afghanistan, to protect those traditions and values for us. Will we honor them, and all the veterans who served and died in wars for this country and our flag over the last 200 years? That’s not a question which a court should hold the final answer. I believe the time has finally come. I believe our country wants this debate. The majority of this Senate, I believe, wants this Amendment. We begin it here, and we begin it now. Mr. President, let the debate begin. Thank you, and I yield the floor.