ON-Lion Letter

A group of 42 U.S. Senators has sponsored an amendment to the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution that could, for the first time in history, reduce Americans’ First Amendment rights.  Introduced by Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, the amendment may receive a floor vote this Summer.

 

Many current sponsors of the proposal have voted on a constitutional amendment limiting political speech before.  At various times throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Congress considered amending the Constitution to ban desecration of the U.S. flag.  A June report from the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) in Alexandria, Va. -- Changing Perspectives:  Senators’ Newfound Respect for the Amending the First Amendment, by its McWethy Fellow and policy analyst Luke Wachob -- examines the shifting views of current Udall amendment co-sponsors who previously voted against a flag-protection amendment on free-speech grounds.  Many of the arguments these politicians made against a flag protection amendment apply equally, or more so, to the Udall amendment currently under consideration.

 

During debates on the flag-desecration amendment on the Senate and House floors, according to Wachob, current Udall amendment co-sponsors made five primary arguments:  1.) the Bill of Rights should never be restricted; 2) amending the Constitution could invite further infringements on the First Amendment in the future; 3) dissenting or offensive speech should not be feared; 4) the proposed amendments were too vague; and, 5) the majority party was pushing the amendment out of political self-interest in advance of an upcoming election.

 

A little more than a decade later, these Senators appear to have changed their minds about free speech, supporting an amendment that can be fairly criticized on all of these grounds.  Changing Perspectives examines pro-First Amendment arguments made by supporters of the Udall proposal when arguing against various flag-burning amendments in past Congresses.

 

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee supports CCP.

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