The Flag Amendment: No Threat to Free Speech

The opinion-page article ''Fold Up the Flag Amendment or Rights Will Fly at Half-Mast,'' Oct. 13, states that the flag-desecration amendment is a threat to free speech. Free speech goes beyond the written word to include other forms of expression, including the wearing of symbols and other actions. Not all actions, however, constitute free speech, and I am not alone in asserting that flag desecration is not free speech to be protected under the First Amendment.

''I believe that the states and the federal government do have the power to protect the flag from acts of desecration and disgrace,'' wrote former Chief Justice Earl Warren. This view is shared by many past and present justices of the US Supreme Court across the ideological spectrum, including Hugo Black, Abe Fortas, Byron White, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Conner, and current Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

The flaw with the author's line of reasoning is his concept of free speech - it is not and never has meant the right of an individual to do anything he or she wants anytime he or she wants to do it. It is a precious liberty founded in law - a freedom preserved by respect for the rights of others.

The author suggests that this amendment would prohibit the right to extreme political views or that the toleration of dissent would be lost. Yet the amendment would only allow states to prohibit a type of behavior, not the right to dissent or the right to hold any view, however extreme. There are endless ways that dissent can be expressed, but society has the right to prohibit flag desecration from being one of them.

This amendment does not in any way alter the First Amendment. It simply corrects a misguided court interpretation of that amendment. As Justice Rehnquist eloquently observed in concluding his dissent, ''Uncritical expression of constitutional protection to the burning of the flag risks the frustration of the very purpose for which organized governments are instituted.... The government may conscript men into the Armed Forces where they must fight and perhaps die for the flag, but the government may not prohibit the public burning of the banner under which they fight.''

I am proud to play a part in trying to right that wrong.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R) Washington

Virginia's 6th District, US House of Representatives

Indonesia's dynamic economy

The opinion-page article ''Doing Business With Indonesia's Dictator,'' Nov. 10, includes some inaccuracies. By thwarting the attempted coup of the Communists on Oct. 1, 1965, President Suharto rescued Indonesia from political and economic collapse. He was later constitutionally nominated as Indonesia's second president in 1968 and has been consecutively reelected five times by the people through their elected representatives in the People's Consultative Assembly.

Twenty-five years ago, Indonesia was saddled with abject poverty, hyperinflation, and a general scarcity of economic opportunities. Since then, the country has achieved an average growth rate of 7 percent and has taken its place as one of the most dynamic economies in the world.

While we were able to turn our economy around in a relatively short period of time, we made sure we did not lose sight of the need to protect and preserve our natural environment. We intend to live up to our motto ''developing without destroying,'' and we are trying to ensure that foreign companies operating in Indonesia will also adhere to this principle.

As to human rights in Indonesia, our Constitution acknowledges the universality of human rights, and therefore the government is committed to upholding them.

Hupudio Supardi Washington

Minister Counselor

Embassy of The Republic of Indonesia

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