Flag more endangered by patriots than pyromaniacs
By Dennis Neal
The News Leader, Staunton, Va.
Once again, the House of Representatives has exhibited its stunning ignorance of the Constitution by voting for an amendment that would make flag desecration illegal. Correction: Once again, those members of the House of Representatives who voted for the amendment have demonstrated their belief that the freedoms guaranteed Americans under the First Amendment are meaningless in comparison with their personal standings in the popularity polls.
Rather than live up to their oath to support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, these members of the House have taken the coward's way out. Rather than explain to their constituents why passing an amendment to the Constitution that abridges the First Amendment to the Constitution is wrong and a contradiction in terms, they would rather wrap themselves in the American flag.
For the fourth time in six years, this favorite dancing pander bear has been trotted out to perform for the voters back home. Hopefully, for the fourth time in six years, the Senate will send the amendment down in flames.
The mantra chanted by those who attempt to justify their abrogation of the First Amendment goes something like this burning the flag isn't speech, it's "action" or "behavior." Therefore it is not protected by the Bill of Rights.
Wrong. Generally, flag-burning as an act of protest has exhibited itself as an extension of two of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment freedom of speech and the right to assemble. It is not normally undertaken as an act of pyromania performed in a vacuum.
What the members of the House who voted for this proposed amendment tend to ignore, or conveniently forget to mention in the heat of wrapping themselves in the flag, is that flag-burning has exhibited itself as a form of protest in only a handful of cases in recent history.
If our elected representatives are so desperate to display their patriotism, we have a suggestion: Rather than tread the slippery slope of amending the Constitution over an issue that is increasingly less likely to occur, spend more time decrying the kind of flag desecration that occurs constantly all over our nation and call for increased education on how to display and dispose of the flag. It's cheap, easy and doesn't require amending the Constitution.
We offer this challenge to our readers: Over the next month, observe how many times the American flag is displayed incorrectly (flown after sunset without illumination, allowed to touch the ground, flown lower in relation to other flags, used in advertising or as clothing) then contrast that with the number of instances of flag-burning that are witnessed during the same time period. We believe we can safely say the former will outstrip the latter.
Dennis Neal is opinion editor of The News Leader in Staunton, Va., where this column originally appeared.
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The Flag Desecration Amendment (2001)
Information on the debate over flag desecration, political expression and the First Amendment.