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Flag burning should be illegal

By Jeanne Hoff, Staff Columnist
On September 10, 2002

America has tolerated the desecration of its flag for over a decade. The American flag is a representation of its people and its government. It embodies the struggle of 50 states towards the republic it now upholds. Therefore it is questionable, why one would dare to desecrate the American flag and all that it stands for.

Acts such as flag burning should be looked upon as deplorable and intolerable. It is difficult to comprehend why the Flag Desecration Act, which would prohibit the defilement of the flag, did not become a constitutional amendment The burning of the American flag is a complex, meaningful battle. It is not a matter of one's constitutional right. Instead, prohibiting the desecration of the American flag is a matter of respect, for such a symbolic entity, which made freedom of speech permissible. America's flag represents the struggle of a nation that united in times of turmoil and triumphed over defeat. It represents a nation, which boldly looks into the face of terrorism and promises to overcome; to emerge and to conquer.

The first case of flag desecration, Texas vs. Johnson 1989, divided the nation. Texas "respondent Johnson participated in a political demonstration to protest the policies of the Reagan administration...The demonstration ended in front of Dallas City Hall, where Johnson unfurled the American flag, doused it with kerosene, and set it on fire. While the flag burned, the protesters chanted: America, the red, white, and blue, we spit on you."

The Texas state court believed Johnson violated Texas law and should be convicted for burning the flag. The Supreme Court disagreed. It stated, "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable." The court found Texas law to be incompatible with the First Amendment.

Under the First Amendment Johnson had a constitutional right to burn the flag.

Many were outraged to varying degrees. The Flag Controversy commenced.

That year Democrats proposed the Flag Desecration Act. Both houses of Congress approved the act. The Supreme Court, however, declared it unconstitutional. This led Congress to propose an amendment to the Constitution which read, "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States." The amendment was voted down in Senate and continues to be since its initial proposal.

In the meeting of the 106th Congress, the amendment received 63 votes in Senate, four short of the two-thirds needed in order for it to be ratified. That year Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, in support of the flag amendment, said, "The American flag is a sacred, basic, fundamental symbol of our nation's ideals, the symbol of those fundamental values for which we have asked our young men and women to fight and die...Allowing the desecration of our national symbol is not a sign of strength, it's a sign of self-indulgence."

However, the Senate's concerns over the flag amendment has shifted since the 106th Congress. On July 17, 2001, the House passed an amendment that would allow Congress to make laws against the desecration of the American flag. The amendment has not been approved by the Senate with the necessary two-thirds majority.

Philip Tyler, a columnist for Freedom Forum, said "Following a recent shift in power, [the Senate] might not even consider the flag amendment this session. Vermont Sen. James Jeffords' departure from the Republican Party resulted in a restructured Judiciary Committee that might keep the amendment from coming to a floor vote."

In circumstances such as the desecration of the flag, the question raised is: How much more will America tolerate-today, Sep. 11 2002? When people decide to revolt against the government and in doing so burn the flag, they fail to understand the American flag is not a representation of the government, yet a representation of themselves. These people fail to comprehend that the freedom they believe themselves to be protecting is a freedom in result of the flag they now burn.

Today, as America remembers the lives of those who passed, there will be an emphasis on continued perseverance and praise for the tenacity within our nation and millions reiterating the need to move on. A sophomore psychology major said, "When you think of the flag, you think of the 'twin towers,' you feel united." Today, as we unite and remember the 2,807 victims in New York alone, or as we celebrate the heroism of firefighters, police officials and volunteers among the sea of red, white and blue, envision the American flag in flames. If this offends you, take action. The Senate has not yet approved the Flag Desecration Amendment.

(Sources: caselaw.lp.findlaw.com, the center for bio-ethical reform/first amendment, CNN.com, freedom forum.org, extract from freedom forum.org /01)


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