Below The Beltway

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Flag Burning Amendment Dies In Senate

by @ 8:06 pm on June 27, 2006. Filed under Freedom of Speech, Individual Liberty, U.S. Constitution

The Senate voted today on the Flag Burning Amendment, and fell one vote short of what would have been a very foolish Amendment to the Constitution.

The Senate today fell one vote short of passing a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed Congress to prohibit the desecration of the American flag.

The proposed amendment went down when the Senate voted 66-34 to approve it. At least 67 votes — two-thirds of the 100-member body — were needed to pass the amendment, which was approved by the House last year.

The vote came after two days of debate in which Republican sponsors argued that the flag deserves protection as a symbol of U.S. freedom and values, while Democratic opponents contended that amending the Constitution was an unnecessary remedy aimed mainly at assuaging conservative voters before the November midterm elections.

The proposed amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 12, said simply, “The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.” If it had passed, it would have required ratification by three-fourths of the state legislatures. It would then have allowed Congress to pass a law outlawing flag desecration without fear of challenge in the Supreme Court.

In the voting on the proposed constitutional amendment, 13 Democrats and one independent joined 52 Republicans in voting yes. Among the Democrats favoring the amendment were Senate minority leader Harry M. Reid of Nevada, Dianne Feinstein of California and John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia.

Three Republicans joined most Democrats in voting against the measure. They were Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Robert Bennett of Utah. McConnell, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, is a strong supporter of First Amendment rights.

In explaining his position, he wrote in a statement yesterday, “No act of speech is so obnoxious that it merits tampering with our First Amendment.” Doing so, he said, “could also set a dangerous precedent for the rest of the Bill of Rights.

McConnell was one of the Republicans that pro-Amendment forced hoped to sway to their side. Looks like they were wrong.

So where do we stand ? The Republicans have their political statement, and the First Amendment is safe from at least this attempt to desecrate it. This may also be the high water mark for this issue; this Amendment has been around for 17 years and has failed every time its come up. Coming one vote short in an election year is likely to be as far as it ever goes.

Update 6/28/06: Dana Milbank has a rather humorous look at this whole episode in today’s Washington Post.
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Congress’s Next Victim: Our Right To Contract
Senate to Vote On Flag Burning Amendment Today

The Flag And Freedom

4 Responses to “Flag Burning Amendment Dies In Senate”

  1. Kevin says:

    This is probably the high water mark for the amendment as you said. Rick Santorum (who voted for the amendment) is toast and his probable successor will vote against it next time. However, I do expect the votes for the amendment to stay somewhere between 63-65 because of the very low turnover of Senators.

  2. CR UVa says:

    How does this amendment infringe on the freedom of speech? I still do not get why people believe that actions constitute a part of speech.

  3. Tom says:

    PL94-344, section 4(k) (1976):

    ?The Flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.?

  4. William Powell says:

    As a life-long Baptist, I am offended by the Flag Burning debate. I am a veteran and a partiot but I do not worship symbols of the United States. I am a father who is very proud of my daughter in the Marine Corps but I don’t worship her uniform, buttoms, badges or medals. She doesn’t either. She worships god and, every day, reads the Bible and seeks the protection of his son when she goes about her work. I do too but I’m not advocating a Bible Burning amendment. It’s a book. The words in the Bible trancend the book just like American partiotism transcends the symbols. We don’t worship symbols so I’m offended to see other Baptists speaking with such passion about offering protection to a piece of cloth. These are the same Baptists that stopped going to church and stopped supporting the congregations and the missions years ago. Is this nationalistic passion taking on a greater meaning than worshiping god?

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