While the nation's lawmakers battled out campaign funding and reform this week,another proposed amendment slipped to the back burner of political debate.
The controversial flag-desecration amendment,H.J Res. 36,was expected to make its way to the House floor Friday for debate. But with members of the House focused on soft money campaign contributions and tax deductions,the flag-burning debate was pushed back to at least Tuesday.
Introduced in March by Rep. Randy Cunningham (R-Calif.),the proposal would add an amendment to the Constitution that gives Congress the power to prohibit flag desecration,including flag burning.
The issue is an old,hotly argued one. Cunningham has introduced flag-desecration legislation four times,and it has consistently died before becoming law. Even when House members give it the two-thirds majority needed for further consideration,as happened the past three times,Senate members defeat it. This effort,with a newly Democratic Senate,could be no exception.
“We're hopeful that the Senate will pick it up and will give it the two-thirds. We do have a lot of momentum there,” said Cunningham's spokeswoman,Harmony Allen.
But Cunningham,a former pilot in the U.S. Navy,isn't deterred by consistent vetoes of the bill. To him,the flag represents patriotism and respect for the country.
“So many of his friends were killed or taken prisoner; he has a very deep understanding of what the flag means,” Allen said. “It represents our freedom. It represents our history. He believes that amending our constitution to protect the flag is an absolute necessity.”
The dispute continues with opponents of the anti-flag desecration amendment saying the flag represents freedom of speech,protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
One group,the American Civil Liberties Union,is known for its continuous stand against the flag-desecration amendment.
“Freedom cannot survive if exceptions to the Constitution are made when someone in power disagrees with expression. And that is what this amendment is about,” said Gregory Nojeim,associate director and chief legislative counsel of the ACLU's Washington National Office,who called the proposed amendment a “test to the commitment of Congress to the rights upon which our nation was founded.”
Other supporters of the proposed amendment believe the issue is not tied to flag desecration.
In the wording of the First Amendment,“expression” symbolizes only vocal,not physical expression,said Patrick Brady,a former Army General. Brady is the chairman of the Board of the Citizens Flag Alliance,a non-partisan confederation of American organizations and individuals.
“This has very little to do with the flag. It has nothing to do with flag burners. Flag burners are not a problem; we'll always have them,” said Brady,who supports the bill because,he said,“it restores the Constitution.”
Even if flag burning is ruled illegal,enforcement would be difficult,others charge. With it often used in artistic works,advertisements and clothing,determining actual “desecration” of the flag would be hard,said Nojeim,from the ACLU.
“This constitution represents a solution in search of a problem. It's a solution to a nonexistent problem. There is no rash of flag burning,” he said.
Instead of decreasing cases of flag violence,a new law against flag desecration probably would spur more instances of it,Nojeim said.
While the bill awaits yet another turn on the House floor,Nojeim sees more potential than just outlawing flag desecration.
“This concept can bring the left and the right together,” he said.