Thursday, April 29, 1999

Flag amendment bad law, Glenn tells ex-colleagues

Gannett News Service

        WASHINGTON — Retired senator and astronaut John Glenn returned to the Senate on Wednesday to implore his former colleagues not to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban flag burning.

        “No one loves the flag more than I do,” said Mr. Glenn, a former Marine pilot who served in both World War II and Korea. “But to me, it would be a hollow victory to protect the symbol of our country while chipping away at the freedom it represents. ... This will do more harm to our nation than 1,000 torched flags would ever do.”

        Mr. Glenn, in his first trip back to the Senate since his retirement in January, told the Judiciary Committee that an amendment to ban desecration of the U.S. flag would undermine the First Amendment's protection of free speech and expression. The First Amendment means nothing unless it protects unpopular, even abhorrent, opinions, Mr. Glenn said.

        “The First Amendment says that Congress shall make no law restricting freedom of speech,” Mr. Glenn said. “Now, we seem to be saying it's OK for Congress to restrict some speech. ... To change our Constitu tion and diminish the rights it protects is not the way to go as far as I'm concerned.”

        Mr. Glenn testified Wednesday at the request of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. The committee is expected to vote today to approve the amendment. It then is scheduled to go before the full Senate in May.

        Supporters and opponents say the vote is expected to be so close that it most likely will be determined by the decisions of two or three senators.


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