Third Party & Independents Archives

Why not a meaningful Amendment to the Constitution?

On Wednesday, 286 of our congressional representatives engaged in their annual act of craven demagoguery by adopting an amendment to the Constitution that would prohibit the desecration of the American flag. At the vanguard of this initiative are public officials, especially those on the right wing of the political spectrum, who purport to esteem personal freedom and resent the pervasive influence of the federal government into the private lives of individuals ostensibly. Yet they propose to amend our most fundamental legal document to achieve an objective that contravenes these ideals diametrically. Apparently these putative patriots are either unaware of their profound hypocrisy or sufficiently depraved to be impervious to it.

To them, American freedom must be defined as the freedom to think and speak as they do exclusively. To them, the American flag is not merely a physical symbol of the United States; it is a quasi-religious icon imbued with a sacred significance. To them, those who disagree with them cannot be confronted by argumentation; they must be silenced by force. To them, dissent is heresy and the infidels must be punished. In short, I'm surprised that they haven't blamed the California wildfires on irresponsible flag burners (but it's early yet, and they may get around to it).

Yet, the "loyal opposition", bereft of proactive ideas, merely responds with its conventional and politically unpopular obstinacy: "Just Say No". Instead of opposing an amendment to the Constitution that limits personal freedom, they could counteract the demagogues by advocating an amendment that is not only necessary but liberating, as well.

In 1972, the US Congress adopted an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that would have prohibited sexual discrimination and more than 90% of the Senators and Representatives who voted on the measure did so in support of it. It was promptly signed by President Nixon and ratified by thirty-five of the fifty sates. Since the Constitution requires ratification by a three-fourths majority, it fell three states short of adoption and has languished in Congress ever since.

Perhaps our esteemed representatives on the political left could eliminate this legislative inertia by changing the name of the ERA and expanding its purview beyond merely gender. They could propose a HUMAN Rights Amendment, which might be written as follows:

"Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States of any state on account of religious creed, ethnicity or any permanent physical characteristic determined by genetic factors exclusively."

Our intrinsic human and civil rights must be protected against legal discrimination equitably, not merely on the basis of race or sex, but against all forms of religious, ethnic and genetic discrimination. If our Declaration of Independence stipulates that the raison d'être of the United States is predicated upon the principle that all people are created equal, shouldn't our Constitution compel our government to enforce that principle? A Human Rights Amendment will ensure that one of our most fundamental rights, the right to be treated as individuals rather than as symbols of a social subclass, is protected by our most fundamental legal document.

Twenty states have some kind of prohibitions against religious, ethnic or genetic discrimination written into their constitutions currently. The Constitution of New Hampshire is somewhat typical:

"Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by this state on account of race, creed, color, sex or national origin.”

Although the passage of a Human Rights Amendment to the US Constitution might not succeed easily, it is necessary to begin the process. Not only could it displace the insipid and venal debate about flag desecration from the national political discourse, it would demonstrate that the United States has political leaders who not only oppose totalitarian encroachments upon civil liberties but who support the expansion of civic egalitarianism, as well. Regardless of its ultimate success, it would be fascinating to watch its opponents argue against granting every American the same rights as those of us who live in bastions of political liberalism like New Hampshire.

PS: In those states that have anti-discrimination clauses in their constitutions, it is difficult to see how any statues that prohibit same-sex marriage could be constitutional. For example, if marriage is a "right" in New Hampshire, then every person must have the ability to marry any other person regardless of their partner's "race, creed, color, sex or national origin." It's hard to read this clause of their constitution in any other way.

Posted by Chuck Hanrahan at June 24, 2005 11:50 AM