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Only one justice got it right, he said cross burning has nothing to do with the First Amendment. Burning a cross is unlike burning any other symbol in our society and not intended to communicate anything other than fear and hatred. The same is true of flag burning, which is also unlike any other symbol in our society, it is the physical embodiment of the values embedded in our Constitution.
The Constitution is too important to be left to the Courts and so is the flag. They both belong to the people and it is time for this body to let the people decide.
There are great and gifted Americans on both sides of this issue. And learned opinions, but only one fact—the American people want their right to protect the flag returned. Whatever concerns some may have, I pray they will muster the courage to believe that this once they may be wrong, and the American public may be right. I hope they will have the compassion to defer to those great blood donors to our freedom many whose final earthly embrace was in the folds of Old Glory.
Mr. CHABOT. Lieutenant Scannella, you are recognized for 5 minutes.
STATEMENT OF LIEUTENANT ANTONIO J. SCANNELLA,
PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY Lieutenant SCANNELLA. I am a man of few words, but I will do my best to express why I feel that the desecration of the American flag is not just someone expressing their constitutional right to freedom of speech.
I have been a police officer for the Port Authority for 15 years. On September 11, 2001, all but three of the police officers in my squad were killed in the attack on the World Trade Center. These were my friends. I worked with them every day for many years. I would have family barbecues at my home. I knew their wives. I knew their children.
In the months that followed, I worked countless hours at ground zero in the worst of conditions, and I saw things that men and women should never see. I helped carry the body of one of est friends. We found his decomposed body months after he was killed by the collapse of the South Tower. To this day, the men and women who survived the attack all suffer from some degree of permanent mental and emotional scarring.
You are all familiar with the torn flag that was recovered from the World Trade Center. This flag flew out in front of the World Trade Center on the morning of the attack and was the only American flag flying there that morning. This flag was recovered from the rubble 3 days after the attack. The National Guard that recovered the flag had intended to burn it in order to dispose of it properly. My partner, Officer Curt Kellinger, was made aware of this flag. He and I felt and insisted that we would not let the flag be burned because it meant too much to us and the friends that we lost. The National Guard respected our request and gave us the flag back.
We decided that we would display this flag at the memorial service for Officer Donald McIntyre. With the help of the local fire department, we displayed the flag by flying it off an arch that was formed by the ladders of two fire trucks. We had brought the flag to this memorial service to honor Donny, and we did.
But then we started to realize that this flag was much more meaningful than that. At the memorial service, everyone was gazing at the flag. This flag meant a lot of things to everyone that saw it that day. This flag had the same meaning that the flag that we sing about in our national anthem, “The bombs bursting in air gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” We started taking the flag to as many funerals as we could. We wanted everyone to see that our American flag had survived.
We eventually took the flag to the World Series in New York. It flew there for all three games in our city. It is hard to describe or comprehend the emotion and reverence displayed in New York at those games. This flag was also prominently displayed at the Super Bowl and both the Veterans' Day and the Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City.
I hope most of you here watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Salt Lake City. If you did, then you all witnessed how powerful and meaningful a cloth can be. This flag meant a lot of things to everyone that saw it that day. This flag represents that our country was attacked, our friends and fellow Americans were brutally killed, but our country was still united by the symbol.
Desecration of the American flag is not someone's freedom of speech. It is done to insult, aggravate, and anger Americans. Any other act that is this offensive is illegal. Most importantly, it is disrespectful to the men and women that have died to give us the freedom that we love and have. Thank
you. Mr. CHABOT. Thank you very much, Lieutenant. We appreciate it. [Applause.]
[The prepared statement of Lieutenant Scannella follows:]
PREPARED STATEMENT OF LIEUTENANT ANTONIO SCANNELLA I am a man of few words but I will do my best today to express why I feel that the desecration of the American flag is not someone exercising their Constitutional right to freedom of speech.
I have been a police officer for the Port Authority of New York for 15 years. During that time, I have risen to the rank of lieutenant. On September 11, 2001, all but three of the police officers in my squad were killed in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Those killed were friends that I had worked with every day for many years. I knew their spouses and children. We were all a great big family.
In the months that followed September 11th, I worked countless hours in the worst of conditions in the heap of rubble and utter destruction that came to be known as Ground Zero. I saw things that no man or woman should ever have to see. I helped carry out what remained of the lifeless body of one of my closest and dearest friends, found months after he was killed by the collapse of the South Tower. To this day, the men and women who survived the attack all suffer from some degree of permanent mental and emotional scarring.
One of the moments that helped keep all of us workers going in the midst of such chaos was the finding of an American flag in the rubble. I am sure you are all familiar with the torn flag that was recovered from the World Trade Center. This flag was believed to have been the only American flag that was flying in front of the World Trade Center on the morning of the attack. The flag was found in the rubble and debris by National Guardsmen. The finding of the flag strengthened the resolve of the workers at Ground Zero, and I believe the nation as a whole. It was the survival of this flag that came to symbolize the strength and resilience that represents the character of our country. A man does a lot of thinking in such circumstances, and I can honestly say that I have never felt prouder to be an American. The comfort and reassurance that this worn and tattered flag has brought, not only to me but to millions of Americans, is unmatched and irreplaceable. No other symbol or object could have done so much for so many in such circumstances.
The National Guardsmen who found the flag had intended to burn it in order to dispose of it properly. My partner, Officer Curt Kellinger, was made aware of this flag. He and I felt very strongly about this great symbol and agreed that we would not let this flag be burned because it meant too much to us, the friends that we lost, our city that had suffered, and the nation as a whole. The National Guard respected our request and gave us the flag.
We decided that we would display the flag at the memorial service for Officer Donald McIntyre. With the help of the local fire department, we displayed the flag by hanging it off an arch that was formed by the ladders of two fire trucks. We brought the flag to this particular memorial service to HONOR Donny and we did, but I began to realize that this flag was much more meaningful than that. At the memorial service everyone was gazing at the flag. This flag meant a lot of things to everyone that saw it that day. This flag had the same meaning as the flag that we sing about in our national anthem, “THE BOMBS BURSTING IN AIR GAVE PROOF THROUGH THE NIGHT THAT OUR FLAG WAS STILL THERE.” We started taking the flag to as many funerals as we could. I wanted everyone to see that our American flag had survived.
We eventually took the flag to the World Series in New York, where it flew for all three games in our city. It is hard to describe or comprehend the emotion and reverence displayed in New York at that games. The flag was also prominently displayed at the Super Bowl and at the Veterans Day Parade in New York City, as well small community gatherings and civic clubs.
I hope most of you here today watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Salt Lake City. If you did, then you all witnessed how powerful and meaningful a flag can be. The American flag is more than just a piece of cloth—it is a national asset, the likes of which should not be defiled. This flag in particular meant a lot of things to everyone that saw it that day. This flag represented that our country was attacked, our friends, family and fellow Americans were brutally killed, but our country was still alive and kicking, united by this symbol.
I am here today not as a political hack or a crusader with a cause. Rather, I am here today as a humble American citizen asking that Congress give protection to a national treasure that was once rightly protected-an object that serves as the common bond for people of all backgrounds. The flag is an integral piece of our country's fabric, sort of like the Grand Canyon or the Washington Monument, neither of which could be defiled without serious penalties. All I am asking is that our national symbol, the American flag, be given similar treatment. It is the least we can do for our family, our country, and those who have given the ultimate sacrifice their lives—to serve and protect it. Thank you for allowing me to testify here today and I will be glad to answer any questions that you may have.
Mr. CHABOT. Mr. May, you are recognized for 5 minutes.
STATEMENT OF GARY E. MAY, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF SO
CIAL WORK, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN INDIANA, EVANSVILLE, IN, ON BEHALF OF VETERANS DEFENDING THE BILL OF RIGHTS
Mr. May. Good afternoon. I am extremely flattered and humbled by your invitation and interest in listening to my thoughts about the proposed amendment to the Constitution. I gladly accepted the invitation as yet another opportunity for me to be of service to my country.
As a Vietnam veteran who lives daily with the consequences of my service to my country, and as the son of a World War II combat veteran and the grandson of a World War I combat veteran, I can attest to the fact that not all veterans, indeed, perhaps most veterans, do not wish to exchange fought-for freedoms for protecting a tangible symbol of those freedoms. I oppose this amendment because it does not support freedom of expression and the right to dissent.
I joined the U.S. Marine Corps while still in high school in 1967. This was a time of broadening public dissent and demonstration against our involvement in Vietnam. I joined the Marines, these protests notwithstanding, because I felt it was my duty to do so. I felt duty-bound to answer President Kennedy's challenge to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” My country was asking me to serve in Vietnam, ostensibly because people there were being arbitrarily denied the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.
During my service with K Company, 3rd Battalion, 27th Marines following the Tet offensive of 1968 in Vietnam, I sustained bilateral above-the-knee amputations as a result of a land mine explosion on April 12, 1968. My military awards have already been cited. Now, over 35 years after I lost my legs in combat, I am again called upon to defend the freedoms that my sacrifices in combat were said to preserve.
It has been a long 35-plus years. I have faced the vexing challenge of reconciling myself with the reality of my military history and the lessons I have learned from it and the popular portrayal of veterans as one-dimensional patriots whose patriotism must take the form of intolerance, narrow-mindedness, euphemisms, and reductionism, where death in combat is referred to as “making the ultimate sacrifice,” and the motivation for service and the definition of true patriotism is reduced to dedication to a piece of cloth.
Three or 4 years ago, near the anniversary of my injuries in Vietnam, I had a conversation with a colleague at the university. I mentioned the anniversary of my injuries to her and asked her what she was doing in 1968. Somewhat reluctantly, she said, “I was protesting the war in Vietnam.” I was not offended. After all, our nation was born out of political dissent. Preservation of freedom of dissent, even if it means using revered icons of this democracy, is what helps me understand losing my legs.
The strength of our nation is found in its diversity. This strength was achieved through the exercise of our First Amendment right to freedom of expression, no matter how repugnant or offensive the expression might be. Achieving that strength has not been easy. It has been a struggle, a struggle lived by some very important men in my life and me.
In addition to my own military combat experience, I have been involved in veterans' affairs as a clinical social worker, program manager, board member, and advocate since 1974. I have yet to hear a veteran I have lived or worked with say that his or her service and sacrifice was in pursuit of protecting the flag. When confronted with the horrific demands of combat, most of us who are honest say we fought to stay alive. In my opinion, putting the pretty face of protecting the flag on the unforgettable, unspeakable abominations of combat seems to trivialize what my fellow veterans and I experienced. This depiction is particularly problematic in light of the current events in Iraq.
I am offended when I see the flag burned or treated disrespectfully. As offensive and painful as it is, I still believe that those dissenting voices need to be heard. The powerful anger that is elicited at the sight of flag burning is a measure of the love and reverence most of us have for the flag.
However, the pride and honor we feel is not in the flag per se. It is in the principles that it stands for and the people who have defended them. Prohibiting this powerful symbolic discourse would stifle legitimate political dissent. If it is to be truly representative of our cherished freedoms, the flag itself must be available as a vehicle to express these freedoms.
This country is unique and special because the minority, the popular, the dissenters, and the downtrodden also have a voice and are allowed to be heard in whatever way they choose to express themselves that does not harm others. Supporting freedom of expression, even when it hurts, is the truest test of our dedication to the belief that we have that right.
Freedom of speech and expression, especially the right to dissent with the policies of the Government, are a cornerstone of our form of Government. Throughout our history, these freedoms have greatly enhanced the stability, prosperity, and strength of our country. These freedoms are under serious attack today. The smothering, oppressive responses to publicly expressed misgivings about our incursion into Iraq and ad hominem attacks against those who dare to express them are alarming. Supporting our troops does not mean suspending critical analysis and muffling public debate and discourse.
If we are truly serious about supporting our troops and honoring the sacrifices of our military veterans, our efforts and attention would be better spent in understanding the full impact of military service and extending services to the survivors and their families. Our record of service to veterans of all wars is not exemplary.
In May 1932, in the midst of the great depression, World War I veterans had to march on this Capitol to obtain their promised bonuses. World War II veterans were unknowingly exposed to radiation during atomic testing. Korean veterans, perhaps more than any living U.S. veterans, have been forgotten. Vietnam veterans are still battling to obtain needed treatment for their exposure to life-threatening herbicides and withheld support upon their return. Veterans from Gulf War I still have unanswered questions about what is popularly known as Gulf War syndrome. The list goes on.
The spotty record in veterans' services is more shameful when one considers that the impact of military service on one's family has gone mostly unnoticed by policy makers. Is our collective interest better served by amending the Constitution to protect a piece of cloth than by helping spouses understand and cope with the consequences of their loved ones' horrible and still very real combat experiences? Are we to turn our backs on the needs of children whose lives have been affected by their parents' military service? The Agent Orange Benefits Act of 1996 was a good start, but we shouldn't stop there. Is our obligation to protect the flag greater, more righteous, more just, or more moral than our obligation to help veterans and their families? I think not.
I have a great deal of pride and admiration for our country, its people, and its fundamental principles. I am grateful for the many heroes of our country and especially those in my family. I believe that all the sacrifices of those who went before me would be for naught if an amendment were added to the Constitution that cut back on our First Amendment rights for the first time in the history of our great nation.
Please listen to these perspectives of ordinary veterans who know first-hand the implications of tyranny and denied freedoms. Our service is not honored by this onerous encroachment on constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. Protecting the flag is no substitute for provision of services and supports. Thank you very much.