- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2003

RICHMOND Dr. Dang Vij Chan talked about post-traumatic stress syndrome. Cuong Nguyen spoke of honesty and death. Quyen Le said it is a question of heritage.
Yesterday, despite daunting weather and overwhelming odds, about 30 members of Northern Virginia's Vietnamese-American community drove to Richmond to lobby lawmakers on the need for a bill allowing the display of the flag that once flew over their homeland: South Vietnam.
"We are talking about our heritage and we are talking about our ethnicity. It is our duty to pass those on to our children, and we do that with our flag," said Mr. Le, who left Northern Virginia shortly after 4 a.m. yesterday to make sure he had a chance to speak with lawmakers about the issue.
But their efforts were in vain because the bill has been effectively killed as a result of lobbying by the federal government.
"I will not be considering this bill this session," said state Sen. Thomas K. Norment, chairman of the Senate Rules subcommittee on constitutional and memorial affairs, where the flag bill is under review.
The U.S. State Department has made no secret of its displeasure with the bill, sponsored by Delegate Robert D. Hull, Fairfax County Democrat. In recent weeks the department has contacted members of the legislature, telling them it was concerned about the bill and implications.
Currently, the federal government and Virginia both use the flag of Vietnam, the communist country formed after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. That flag is red with a golden star. The flag of what was South Vietnam has three red bars on a golden background.
Even after learning of the bill's fate, members of the delegation were adamant about continuing their quest.
"My friend, who died fighting the communists, made me promise that I would fight to get rid of [the communist flag] in schools because it causes so much stress. We are asking Virginia lawmakers to remove that flag because seeing it can cause high blood pressure and even stroke," said Le Nguyen of Falls Church.
"It is no different to me to see [the communist flag] than when a Jewish person sees a Nazi swastika," said Liem Bui of Fairfax.
Mr. Norment, Williamsburg Republican, said he was not pressured by the State Department, but that the federal government made its position clear to him.
"I do not feel they have intruded into the process of Virginia government. What they did was say whether they thought it was appropriate and reminded me that this really is a diplomatic issue," he said.
Mr. Norment declined to offer specific details; however, Mr. Hull said he was told Mr. Norment sent the White House two versions of the bill for consideration, both of which reportedly were rejected.
"I find this extremely unusual," Mr. Hull said.
Members of the Vietnamese-American community, most of whom fled Vietnam in 1975, said they question who the U.S. State Department represents.
"There is no reason the State Department should be taking a position on this issue," said Anhthu Lu, vice president of the Da Hieu Youth Alliance. "If only they would give this much attention to the grave violations of human rights in Vietnam and promoting democracy there."
The Vietnamese government has been outspoken in its criticism of the bill. Last week it wrote Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, urging him to do what he could to see that the measure was not considered.
Mr. Hull's bill passed overwhelmingly in the House last month, but has been tied up in the Senate subcommittee since. In the meantime, members of the Senate have been lobbied by the State Department.
"I believe this bill could run afoul of the U.S. Constitution and our federal system, which confide the conduct of foreign policy to the national government," said Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage in a Feb. 5 letter to Mr. Hull the only communication Mr. Hull said he has had with the federal agency.
"We are open to working on some language that might make this proposal acceptable, but I have not heard anything from them," said Mr. Hull. "They are criticizing me because they say my bill interferes with foreign policy, which I don't think it does, yet they are the ones getting involved in a state's agenda."
Mr. Hull said that, assuming he is re-elected in November, he plans to re-introduce the measure next year.
"Sometimes these things take a few years for people to catch on," he said.

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