Wednesday, June 22, 2005

House Passes Flag Burning Amendment

Once again there is a flag burning debate in Washington. The House passed a potential amendment to the Constitution with over 60% of Representatives voting for its passage, and, as in the past, the Senate will decide whether it gets through.

No American enjoys seeing the Stars and Stripes burned. But, in my mind, as disgusting and disrespectful an act as I personally find it, I need to agree that it is a right of our citizens. While the flag is our ultimate symbol around the world, the more important piece of the puzzle is the fact that Americans can protest in any way we choose, as long as it does not directly hurt someone. I find KKK marches equally disgusting because of what that group stands for, but in this day and age of a war on terrorism, we still allow this group that practiced terrorism on our land a chance to have their day in the public’s eye. Being able to speak out or protest is as fundamental a right as each one of us has, and creating amendments that begin to limit that right need to be considered with great care. One other thing to consider, when is the last time anyone has seen an instance of flag burning in the U.S.? It is common overseas, but I cannot recall anything here for a very long time.

I encourage those who read this to share your views, whether for or against such an amendment, because it really is an important decision our leaders will be making.


epi said...

Given the number of important things things that need doing, it seems to me that worrying about flag burning or desecration is a waste of time. As many have commented elsewhere, probably the most immediate consequence of such an amendment and corresponding legislation would be a surge of flag desecration intended as an act against the amendment. While the possible reaction to a bill should not dictate whether the bill becomes law, it seems pertinent in this case, since as you said, we don't seem to have a problem currently. Thus, the law seems likely to create the very issue it criminalizes when the issue rarely occurred previously. Also, at what point does something become a flag (this may or may not be codified somewhere)? Are the little handheld flags people hand out at 4th of July "flags"? How about the flag appearing on a t-shirt or a bumper sticker? What is an appropriate punishment - prison, fines? If such a law was really enforceable, it seems intent would have to be taken into effect, otherwise we have situations like the toddler who smashes the handheld flag into her or his plate of pinic food being termed crimes. Since one is "supposed" to burn a flag to dispose of it when it becomes too tattered etc. (at least according to what I learned in elementary school and what I'm told the boy scouts learned...), can people who wish to burn flags in protest simply say they are burning a tattered flag to dispose of it? I guess overall this seems like a ridiculous amount of work in codifying and creating an "appropriate" law, which would probably mainly be enforced against political dissidents, and the legislature can probably find better things to work on with its time. (Especially since this is the fifth time the amendment has been brought up and passed in the House, having been shot down the last four times in the Senate...)

vonny said...


You bring up a number of good, practical concerns and micro-details that would need to be addressed in real legislation, especially what defines a flag. I agree we would likely see a number of flag burnings if such an amendment actually passed the Senate (I did read a brief report that a nose-count of the Senate shows it will fall short once again). Hopefully Congress will move on to other things.

Jim said...

U.S. military codes actually call for the burning of old and tattered flags as the proper way to destroy them. That means it is not the actual act of flag burning that we object to but the political idea behind it that we object to. Thus making it protected speech under the 1st amendment.
The reason why Republicans love to bring up the issue every few years is that it forces Democrats into an uncomfortable vote. They are forced into taking a position that that can easily be misconstrued into being "pro-flag burning." Remember, one of the reasons John McCain lost the South Carolina primary was that Bush supporters spread around a few votes McCain had made on medical funding making him sound "pro breast cancer." Having this vote on their record makes Democrats have to address the old "liberals hate America" rhetoric.
Unfortunately that means that this noisy and irrelevant issue appears every few years like the cicada bugs. "Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."