President Bush, declaring that "the full promise of the civil rights movement has still not been achieved," called Friday for an expansion of the civil rights mission in the United States to encompass the fight against discrimination based not just on race, but on gender, age and physical disabilities.
In a day in which he offered support to a number of causes, the president also met with Albertina Sisulu, wife of an imprisoned black South African leader and co-president of the United Democratic Front of South Africa.She said later that Bush told her he hoped his administration would become a catalyst "for bringing about a peaceful change in South Africa." However, she reported, the president balked at her call for "comprehensive, mandatory sanctions" to bring about an end to South Africa's racial separation policy known as apartheid.
And, journeying across the Potomac to the flag-bedecked Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Va., Bush gave his support to a proposed 20-word amendment that would prohibit the desecration of the American flag.
With an audience of civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, looking on in the White House East Room, Bush marked the 25th anniversary of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, which President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law on July 2, 1964. The act banned segregation in public accommodations, and was followed by laws protecting voting rights and banning discrimination in housing and employment.
"The law cannot tolerate any discrimination and my administration will not tolerate abuse of that principle," Bush said.
"The hard lesson of the passing years is that it has not been enough to wage a war against the old forms of bigotry and inequality," he said. "The lives of the disadvantaged in this country are affected by economic barriers at least as much as by the remnants of legal discrimination."
While "much progress" has been achieved since the Civil Rights Act was passed, Bush said, it is time "to move forward on a broader front, to move forward into the century's final decade with a civil rights mission that fully embraces every deserving American, regardless of race, whether women, children or the aged, whether the disabled, the unemployed or the homeless."
After the ceremony, Jackson complained that as a result of recent Supreme Court decisions restricting affirmative action programs and making it more difficult for plaintiffs to prove workplace discrimination, "we need a meeting of some substance with the president to deal with legislative remedies to offset" the impact of the court decisions.
At the flag ceremony, Bush again showed his dismay with a Supreme Court decision that overturned laws in 48 states that made it illegal to burn the American flag. In a 5-4 decision last week, the court ruled that such statutes violated the First Amendment's protection of free speech.
"For those who've championed the cause of civil rights here at home, to those who fought for democracy abroad, free speech is a right that is dear and close to all. It is in defense of that right and the others enshrined in our Constitution that so many have sacrificed.
"But before we accept dishonor to our flag, we must ask ourselves how many have died following the order to save the colors," the president said.