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Hatch reintroduces flag amendment

As he promised after defeat three years ago, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, again introduced Tuesday a constitutional amendment to ban desecrating the U.S. flag.

Hatch last pushed the amendment in 1995, when it failed by three votes to achieve the needed two-thirds majority. Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, was one of only four Republicans who opposed it, saying it could hurt the Constitution more than help the flag.Hatch said then that he was confident that the American people want his amendment and vowed to bring it back in 1997 or 1998 to see if intervening Senate elections would bring the extra support needed for passage.

As he introduced it Tuesday, he said, "Some have argued that this amendment actually violates American principles. They contend that preventing the physical desecration of the flag actually tramples on the sacred right of Americans to speak freely.

"I disagree," Hatch said. "If burning the flag were the only means of expressing dissatisfaction with the nation's policies, then I too might oppose this amendment. But we live in a free and open society."

Similarly, he said, "Smashing in the doors of the State Department may be a way of expressing one's dissatisfaction with the nation's foreign policy objectives. And one may even consider such behavior speech" but said laws prevent it because there are peaceful alternatives that are just as powerful.

Hatch said the flag merits special protection from burning in protest or other desecration because it "represents in a way nothing else can the common bond shared by an otherwise diverse people" who have fought for freedom under the flag.

He added that protecting it would not lead to a "slippery slope" of eroding other freedoms of speech. "The flag is unique as our national symbol. There is no other symbol, no other object, which represents our nation as does the flag."

Hatch also said a simple statute to protect the flag - which Bennett has favored - is insufficient to overcome a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that flag burning is a protected form of speech.

To become law, the constitutional amendment would have to pass both houses of Congress by two-thirds majorities and then be ratified by three-fourths of the states' legislatures.

Hatch said, "Forty-six states have passed resolutions urging Congress to send a flag-protection amendment to the states for ratification," and groups from the American Legion to the Citizens Flag Alliance are also pushing it.

"I therefore think that the will of the people should not be frustrated by this body," Hatch said.