The U.S. Congress is closer than ever to passing a constitutional amendment that would criminalize desecration of the U.S. flag. If successful, it will mark the first time in 214 years that the Bill of Rights has been restricted by a constitutional amendment, and will place the United States among a select group of nations that have banned flag desecration, including Cuba, China, Iran, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
The amendment has already been approved by the necessary two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives, and last week it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a near-party line 11-7 vote.
Now, aided by a handful of Democrats, the amendment has gathered 66 votes in favor, just one shy of passage. “Whether advocates can find the 67th vote to send the flag amendment to the states for ratification remains unclear.” The Senate vote is expected next week.
Defacing a flag is an act that most Americans find offensive and outrageous. It is also “an act of protected speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” as already established by the Supreme Court.
It takes no courage to stand for freedom of speech for the views with which we agree. Rather, favoring freedom of speech means favoring freedom of speech precisely for those views one finds offensive and outrageous.
As Colin Powell has said of the First Amendment, affirming his opposition to a flag-burning amendment, “I would not amend that great shield of democracy to hammer a few miscreants. The flag will be flying proudly long after they have slunk away.”
Amendment supporters seek to restrict the Bill of Rights despite the fact that they “cannot point to a single instance of anti-American flag burning in the last 30 years. Sen. Bob Bennett, a Republican from Utah, who opposes the amendment, has argued, “I don’t want to amend the Constitution to solve a non-problem. People are not burning the flag.”