Its Strength Lies
in All Our Diversities
June 1967 — US House of Representatives, Washington DC
Mr. Chairman, I rise on a matter of personal privilege for myself and for my constituents in the state of Hawaii, to call to the attention of this House a defamatory and highly insulting letter which was placed in the record on page 48 of the hearings on H.R. 271, bee the Subcommittee of the Judiciary. This was a letter submitted by one Aaron E. Koota, district attorney of Kings County, Brooklyn, New York. His letter referred to a recent court decision by a distinguished jurist in my state, a Harlan Fiske scholar and graduate of Columbia University Law School, a former legislator, a much-decorated veteran of World War II, and a member of the famous 442nd Infantry Battalion, which has been acclaimed as the most decorated unit in all of American military history.
This case involved a student form the state of New York attending the University of Hawaii’s East-West Center who had drawn a large caricature of the flag with dollar signs for stars and the stripes dripping as with blood. The student was arrested under state law which makes it a crime to show contempt for the flag of the United States. The judge after reviewing the case ruled that the drawing was symbolic of the defendant’s feeling about certain policies of his country, but that he did not intend by his drawing to dishonor the flag which to him still symbolized everything that he loved and honored about America.
Mr. Koota in trying to dismiss the legal significance of this case said in his letter:
Although it is true that the act in the latter case was condoned by the court as symbolic speech, we must realize that the background of the state of Hawaii is not as steeped in the same spirit of Americanism as are the other states of the Union. Hawaii has a foreign ideology as its background and that is probably explanatory of the Court’s attitude.
By this outrageous statement the loyalty, patriotism, and Americanism of my entire state has been impugned, as well as that of my esteemed friend the Honorable Masato Doi, the judge in this case whose learned opinion took tremendous courage and conviction to write.
This is precisely the outrage that will be perpetrated by this bill on all Americans who do not conform in ideas or beliefs or color of skin or shape of their eyes or nose.
A disagreement on what we believe to be the real meaning of our Constitution will lead to emotional, irrational accusations like Kootas that the reasons for disagreement is due to lac of love of our country or lack of Americanism.
According to Attorney Koota, I wonder how many generations must we be Americans to be steeped with this spirit of Americanism with which he believes he is possessed? Can it be said that only Hawaii has a foreign ideology as its background and not Brooklyn, New York, or any city in this country where it people are of immigrant stock?
We feel that same pride when our colors are presented, or skin like yours rises in goose pimples at the playing of the national anthem, our eyes like yours wept as many tears over the death of our late President Kennedy, our blood has ben shed in three wars for the defense of our country and is now being shed again in Vietnam.
I am willing to match the love and devotion to our country of the people of my state whose only difference is the color of their skins, with any group of people anywhere.
The greatness of our country lies in our people, diverse and of all possible immigrant backgrounds, who are bound together by their common love of freedom and liberty. No law is needed to require this loyalty; no punishment, not even confinement tin wartime relocation camps with complete denial of due process, can obliterate this loyalty.
The love of our country cannot be destroyed; the nation cannot be injured by the mere burning or defiling of one flag. America stands for too much that is a tribute to freedom that no few foolish acts of contempt can dishonor its greatness. Rather these childish tantrums now cast only ridicule upon the perpetrators of this insane and irrational behavior.
I cannot believe that these few extremists in our society endanger the honor of this country; if they truly do, then no mere $1,000 fine or year in jail would be punishment enough.
Ramsey Clark, the Attorney General of the United States, in commenting on this bill, states:
Particular care should be exercised to avoid infringement of free speech. To make it a crime if one “defies” or “casts contempt . . . either by word or act” upon the national flag is to risk invalidation. This broad language may be too vague under standards of constitutional law to constitute the basis of a criminal action. Such language reaches toward conduct which may be protected by First Amendment guarantees, and the courts have found vagueness in this area.
I stand four-square behind our attorney general and more particularly behind the honored jurist of my state whose Americanism has been questioned because he chose to place the Constitution above his own popularity and to ignore the passionate demands of people who seek to punish all offbeat conduct without regard for the true meaning of liberty and freedom.
America is not a country which needs to punish its dissenters to preserve its honor. America is not a country which needs to banish its atheists to preserve its religious faith. America is not a country which needs to demand conformity of its people, for its strength lies in all our diversities converging in one common belief, that of the importance of freedom as the essence of our country and the real honor and heritage of our nation, which no trampled flag can ever symbolically desecrate.
I did not intend to speak against or even vote against this bill, but when my Americanism has been challenged and that of the people of my state, by persons who see only disloyalty in dissent, then I must rise to voice my flight and my belief that America is too great to allow its frenetic fringes to curb the blessings of freedom and liberty, which are the cornerstones of our democracy.
Source: Congressional Record, 90th Congress, 1st Session, Vol. 113, Part 12 (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office) 1967.