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Pass the flag-protection amendment

SHARE Pass the flag-protection amendment

Nine years ago, by a vote of 371-43 in the House and 91-9 in the Senate, Congress passed The Flag Protection Act of 1989.

Responding to the Texas vs. Johnson decision in which the Supreme Court ruled that flag desecration is protected free speech under the First Amendment, the House and Senate overwhelmingly voted in favor a statute that stated: Whoever knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the ground, or tramples upon any flag of the United States shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.This subsection does not prohibit the disposal of a flag when it has become worn or soiled. As used in this section, the term "flag of the United States" means any flag of the United States, or any part thereof, made of any substance, of any size, in a form that is commonly displayed.

Clearly, Congress was outraged at the high court's decision, as were the majority of the American people. However, the statute did not pass without debate. There were some who wanted a constitutional amendment guaranteeing Congress the power to protect the flag. Others wanted to give the statute a chance, arguing not to amend the constitution before seeing if a statute would be sustained.

A few months later, the Supreme Court struck down the federal statute. In no uncertain terms, the high court opined that a law seeking to protect the flag from desecration violated the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech. Further, the court strongly implied that no statute could be crafted to coexist with the First Amendment because desecrating the flag represented a legitimate point of view that deserved constitutional protection.

It was at this point that flag-protection proponents switched to advocating a constitutional amendment that would do no more than enable Congress to again pass the same statute to protect the flag that had been previously struck down by the Supreme Court.

A large number of senators are in the curious position of having voted for the 1989 statute but are now opposing an amendment that would allow them to re-enact that statute! Many claim they do not wish to amend the Constitution. But this reasoning is specious if the only result would be to sustain a statute they had previously voted for.

If a member voted for the 1989 statute, presumably he or she felt it was consistent with the First Amendment. Why then would such an individual now believe that a flag-protection amendment, narrowly drawn, would not be consistent with the First Amendment? The only logical and consistent position for a supporter of the 1989 statute now must be to support the flag-protection amendment.

Ratification of this amendment by 38 state legislatures would clearly declare: "We, the people, believe Congress is capable of passing reasonable federal statutes to protect Old Glory from acts of physical desecration."

The amendment is about freedom. It's about freedom of speech. It's about the most important freedom of speech of all: the right of the American people to be heard on an issue that is important to them.

It's about letting we, the people, decide whether or not laws will reflect the values of the citizenry. It's about making a bold statement that tolerance of abhorrent behavior has its limits. It's about saying loudly and clearly that we, the American people, will not under any circumstances tolerate behavior that we know to be evil and contrary to the civility necessary if free speech is to flourish in our society.

These senators need to hear from you now. If they voted for The Flag Protection Act of 1989, they agree with 80 percent of the American people that the Supreme Court ruling was wrong and that the flag deserves protection. The same arguments that made the statute the right vote in 1989 also argue for a "yes" vote for an amendment in 1998.

Thank them for their 1989 vote. And for the very same reasons, urge them to vote for the flag-protection amendment.