Following a familiar script,a Constitutional amendment banning flag-burning breezed through half of Congress. But victory celebrations might not last long.
The Flag Protection Amendment passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday by a 298-125 margin,exceeding the two-thirds majority that a Constitutional amendment needs to get through the House. Similar bills have gotten past the House over the last decade,but it's been step two that has sent the effort down in flames.
The Senate,once again,is expected to defeat the bill after Congress returns from its August recess. And the Democratic-controlled Senate would have to pass the measure by a two-thirds majority for the amendment to go through. The Senate Judiciary Committee,headed up by Sen. Patrick Leahy,D-Vt.,gets first crack at the bill.
Introduced by Rep. Randy Cunningham,R-Calif.,the bill would give Congress power to amend the Constitution to outlaw desecration of the American flag. Burning of the flag,sometimes an act of protest,also would be illegal if the proposal passes.
“The American flag is a national treasure,” Cunningham said in a July 14 statement. “It is the ultimate symbol of freedom,equal opportunity and religious tolerance. Amending our Constitution to protect the flag is a necessity.”
Tuesday's developments came as little surprise to those familiar with the legislation's history. Congress has debated the issue numerous times during the years,and Cunningham has introduced similar bills three times that gained House support but Senate opposition.
“We anticipate that the Senate will not take up the amendment. We hope to defeat it all together in the next Congress,” said Gregory Nojeim,chief legislative counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union's national office. The American Civil Liberties Union consistently has opposed the flag burning amendment.
The Citizens Flag Alliance,which lobbies for outlawing flag desecration,now will try to persuade Senate democrats to reverse their opinions against the flag protection act.
Marty Justis,executive director of Indianapolis' chapter of the flag alliance,said members across the country will spend the next month requesting their senators' support of the bill. “Basically it's a grassroots lobbying effort,” he said.
In addition,leaders of the alliance are trying to get their voices out to Democratic senators who are likely to veto the measure. “We would like to sit down with the democratic leadership and discuss with them the particulars of our opinion on this,” Justis said.
Even though the House has agreed with their cause,the alliance would prefer if each state made its own decision about flag desecration.
The ACLU,though,says a problem will arise in enforcing the law because the flag is used in many ways,such as in art,clothing and advertising.
Calling the proposed amendment a “direct assault on First Amendment rights,” Nojeim said the ACLU hopes Senate will continue its trend and defeat the bill.
“The First Amendment was designed to protect a number of expressions,whether physical,verbal,pretty or ugly,” he said. “To allow Congress to pick and choose the expressions that Congress can prohibit is to deny the very purpose of the First Amendment.”