Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, managed to fly his flag-protection amendment to the Constitution through his Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
The panel, chaired by Hatch, passed it on a mostly party-line vote of 10-7. It now goes to the full Senate. The House passed an identical version on a 310-114 vote last year.Hatch has constantly pushed the amendment since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that flag burning and desecration is a protected form of free speech.
Hatch last brought the amendment to a full Senate vote in 1995 - when it failed by three votes to attain the necessary two-thirds majority. Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, was one of only four Republicans who opposed it then, saying it could hurt the Constitution more than it would help the flag.
But Hatch continued his arguments Wednesday that the flag is a unique symbol that deserves unique protection.
"Restoring legal protection to the American flag by a Constitutional amendment would not infringe on a person's freedom of expression, through speech, idea or thought. It merely prevents conduct with respect to one unique symbolic object, our nation's flag," he said.
Hatch added, "The flag represents in a way nothing else can the common bond shared by an otherwise diverse people. Whatever our differences of party, race, religion, or socioeconomic status, the flag reminds us that we are very much one people."
However critics have argued that the flag represents freedom, including the freedom to desecrate it, and worry about any infringements on free speech.
Hatch noted that 46 states have passed resolutions urging Congress to send a flag protection amendment to the states for ratification, and that national polls have shown overwhelming support for it.
For an amendment to be made part of the Constitution, it must pass both houses of Congress by two-thirds majorities and then be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.
Hatch's proposed amendment reads: "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States."