WASHINGTON – Some members of Congress have proposed a constitutional amendment that would give it the power to ban physical desecration to the flag of the United States.
Opponents say the flag amendment would take away citizens' First Amendment rights.
A discussion on amending the Constitution to protect the flag,sponsored by the First Amendment Center,was held here Tuesday.
Adrian Cronauer,national delegate for the Citizens Flag Alliance,which favors the amendment,said the groups in the coalition are in favor of the amending the Constitution,not the First Amendment.
He said the only way to protect the flag from being burned or mistreated is thorough a constitutional amendment.
“It cannot be done any other way,” said Cronauer,best known as the model for Robin Williams' character in “Good Morning,Vietnam!”
Cronauer said people who desecrate the flag do so only to enrage witnesses.
“If you were to go to an incident with a flag burning and ask 10 people what was the message being conveyed,you would get 10 different answers based on that person's viewpoint of what is going on,” Cronauer said.
James Warner,a former prisoner of war and domestic policy adviser to President Reagan,opposes the proposed amendment.
Warner said people have the right to disagree with the government because the Constitution allows them that freedom.
“People are born free. It says that in the Declaration of Independence,” Warner said. “They have a right to express their opinions,even if I don't like the opinions they express or the means by which they express it. They have a right to say it,even if those opinions are incoherent.”
Robert Corn-Revere,a lawyer and an expert on the First Amendment,said the issue does not divide evenly on a liberal-conservative or a red-state blue-state line. Corn-Revere pointed out that even veterans' groups are divided.
The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars favor the amendment,while the Veterans Defending the Bill of Rights oppose it.
“Some prominent people who oppose the amendment are Colin Powell,John Glenn and James Warner” Corn Revere said. Powell,a Republican,is President Bush's former secretary of state and a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,and Glenn,a Democrat,is a former astronaut and U.S. Senator.
Corn-Revere did not take sides during the debate. Instead he discussed what would happen if the amendment is added to the Constitution.
Corn-Revere said the amendment would not be easy to enforce.
“Congress would have to come up with a law that defines what the flag of the United States is and what is physical desecration,” he said.
Corn-Revere said Congress would have a hard time answering these two questions because if the definition is too broad,things that are not flags but flag-themed – such as a shirt – could be prohibited.
Cronauer said it would be up to Congress to answer these questions once the amendment has been put in place.
For the amendment to be added to the Constitution it needs a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate and approval from three-fourths of the states.
The Supreme Court has decided seven flag-desecration cases. Five of those cases upheld desecration as a First Amendment right,and two in particular have made flag burning a constitutionally protected form of expression.
Those two cases,from 1989 and 1990,Corn-Revere said,started the debate on amending the constitution because it was the first time a state and federal law forbidding flag desecration were considered unconstitutional.
The two cases are Texas vs. Johnson and United States vs. Eichman.
The House Judiciary Committee approved a joint resolution proposing a constitutional amendment to ban desecration of the U.S. flag on May 25. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said he has promised the Senate will vote on the amendment before July 4. Frist supports the amendment.