Statement of Bishop Carlton Pearson
Before the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the
House Committee on Judiciary
In Support of H.J. Res. 33,
The Flag Protection Constitutional Amendment
March 23, 1999
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, it is an honor to appear before you today to communicate a matter of critical importance to the American people. I am here on behalf of the thousands of members of my local congregation, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as well as the hundreds of additional churches and ministries under my oversight as Bishop. I represent them in saying today that "We, all of us, love America."
The flag is the symbol of our country and a country is its people. The flag represents its people. So when we destroy the flag, we are destroying ourselves. I believe that the greatest terrorist threat to the United States is not from across the ocean, but from some misguided, radical thinkers here within our own borders, on our own soil, who enjoy the very freedoms they seek to destroy by destroying the symbol of those freedoms. We believe in the emblems, the banner, the standard of our country, and we believe we speak for the majority of Americans when we say, "We want our flag protected."
Everyday our news is bombarded with many activists - from the environment to animal rights...to women's rights...to civil rights...and so many others. Today I am here as an activist for America.
From the top to the bottom, from the White House to the Courthouse...to the School House...to the Church House...all the way down, it seems, to the dog house...we are experiencing a dreadful decline in standards, morals and ethics. As Don E. Burly asks in his book Restoring the Good Society, How can a society that has produced more freedom and prosperity than any other in history, and has been so generous in its distribution, also increasingly lead the world in so many categories of social pathology?
The physical desecration of the flag, banner and standard of our nation is a sign of the moral and psychological weakness in our culture. When we have lowered ourselves to blindly accept that which we know is wrong, we devalue both the symbol and everything for which it stands. We need to reawaken the moral conscience of our nation.
This issue is not just about a piece of cloth. The debate is about the values that we believe are necessary for our nation to survive and the values and standards that so-called piece of cloth represent. We are not better served by a society where anything goes, but by a society where honesty, respect for mankind and pride in country are not just catchy phrases, but words to live by.
Why should we respect and continue to allow the undignified, irresponsible, irreverent, despicable actions of a minority group of thinkers who, in trouncing the flag under their feet and destroying it in every horrendous and appallingly imaginable way, would just as soon trounce and destroy everything that's good, that's wholesome, that's decent and that's right about what the flag represents. We believe it is time to raise the standard, establish some boundaries, draw some lines and make it illegal to cross those lines - with penalty of prosecution.
Last summer I had the honor of presiding over a rally for the flag protection amendment in my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, which later aired repeatedly all over this country on nationwide television. Over a thousand people at very short notice attended that event to hear testimonials, song and prayer in support of flag protection from some of our nation's greatest heroes, entertainers and clergy. The attendees that night represented every race, color, culture, creed and socio-economic status, and they cheered and celebrated Old Glory and the return of her rightful protections.
In a word, the evening was divinely inspired. It also reinforced what I already knew, that returning legal protection for the flag is not the battle cry of one political party versus another, of conservative versus liberal, or black versus white. On the contrary, it is an issue that inspires unity, diversity, majority and hopefully, at long last, victory for our entire nation.
This is government of the people, by the people, for the people. We are merely asking for the government to return to the American people the right to protect their flag.
It seems that Congress is paying attention to public opinion polls as never before. Well, the national polls say that between 75% and 80% of Americans want their flag protected. I think it's time to do what the people who sent you here by ballot and support have requested.
As a young boy and later a young man growing up in the turbulent 60's, in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, the radical revolution of American disgruntled young people and the Vietnam War, I would always feel a more pronounced sense of anger and resentment toward those I saw burning or in any way desecrating the American flag. At that time, I was not sure why I felt so uncomfortable and even threatened by such acts.
At first, I thought of lessons I learned as a fourth and fifth grader in the John J. Montgomery elementary school in Southern California, where I was on what we called "The Flag Patrol," where such actions, including even accidentally touching the flag to the ground, were absolutely forbidden and would result in an immediate expulsion from the honored and then prestigious position as a member of the "Flag Patrol."
Now, as I look back, I realize that what bothered me most is the fact that the Flag for most Americans - especially African Americans - has never represented a reality already actualized, it instead represents the symbol, banner and standard of our hopes and dreams toward a reality. It represents the possibilities and ultimately probabilities of peace, prosperity and corporate equality and fairness for all of this God-ordained Republic.
When those misguided and unrestrained Zealots displayed such blatant disrespect for our flag, I felt threatened and insulted, even personally attacked, affronted, accosted and assailed by those who were seeking to destroy the banner that represented our nations and yea even my own promise and hopes of a better future for all peoples.
The flag represents our common and corporate hopes of the very dream Dr. Martin Luther King shared with our nation and the world.
Many of us are actually living that dream while others are set on destroying it. We must not permit their success at such a dishonorable course or cause.
In closing, let me say that we are a nation of symbols. The cross is a symbol of Christianity; a ring is a symbol of covenant in marriage, and the flag is a symbol of the United States of America and all it is and hopes to be. The legalized desecration of the symbol of our nation destroys the bond that is intended to unite us all. We voted you in as lawmakers to police or make policies to protect us and our standards from lawbreakers. I trust you will do the right thing.
Thank you for inviting me to testify before the Subcommittee today. God bless you and God bless America.