63% oppose flag-burning amendment, new survey shows

Friday, June 10, 2005

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The number of Americans who oppose a constitutional
amendment that would give Congress the power to punish flag-burning as protest
is up sharply from 2004, according to a survey released today by the First
Amendment Center.

The “State of the First Amendment 2005” survey, conducted in May, shows:

  • 63% of those sampled said the U.S. Constitution “should not be amended to
    prohibit burning or desecrating the American flag,” up from 53% in 2004 and the
    highest number against the proposed amendment since the annual survey began in

  • 35% said the Constitution “should be amended” — down from 45% in 2004.

    “This issue involves one of the nation’s most fundamental First Amendment
    guarantees, the right of free speech; and what many consider the most-venerated
    symbol of our nation, honored each year on Flag Day, June 14,” said Gene
    Policinski, executive director of the First Amendment Center.

    “I have no doubt that most Americans want the flag to be protected and
    respected, but clearly more Americans seem to be having second thoughts about
    using a constitutional amendment to deal with the issue of flag desecration, and
    about the impact such a dramatic move would have on free speech,” he said.

    Public support for an anti-flag desecration amendment has shifted up and down
    each year since a 49-49% split in 1997, but the 2005 survey’s 63-35% result is
    the widest division of opinion yet recorded in the center’s annual polling.

    Attempts have been made to punish flag desecration at local, state and
    national levels since the Civil War. But since the 1970s, the U.S. Supreme Court
    has held in several cases (see Texas v. Johnson (1989) and United States v. Eichman (1990)) that burning the flag as a form of political or social
    protest is protected speech.

    Five proposals to amend the Constitution to punish flag desecration have been
    adopted by the House since 1995, but all have faltered in the Senate — most
    recently, failing in 2003 by just two votes.

    On May 25, the House Judiciary Committee approved H.J.R. 10, a constitutional
    amendment to ban the physical desecration of the U.S. flag, setting the stage
    for a full vote in the House, where it will need a two-thirds majority to be
    approved. No date for a vote has yet been set.

    If ratified, the current proposal would become the 28th Amendment. Following
    House and Senate approval, the proposed amendment would be submitted to the
    states, where three-fourths — 38 states — are needed for approval. All 50 state
    legislatures have at one time or another adopted resolutions in support of an
    anti-flag-desecration amendment.

    The First Amendment Center commissioned New England Survey Research
    Associates to conduct a general public survey of attitudes about the First
    Amendment. The survey was conducted by telephone between May 13 and May 23,
    2005. The sampling error for 1,003 national interviews is +/- 3.1% at the 95%
    level of confidence. The sample error is larger for sub-groups.

    (See the questions on flag desecration included in the “State of the First Amendment 2005” survey.)

    The First Amendment Center works to preserve and protect First Amendment
    freedoms through information and education. The center serves as a forum for the
    study and exploration of free-expression issues, including freedom of speech, of
    the press and of religion, the right to assemble and petition the government.
    The First Amendment Center, with offices at Vanderbilt University in Nashville,
    Tenn., and Arlington, Va., is an operating program of the Freedom Forum and is
    associated with the Newseum.

    # # #

    For information about the “State of the First Amendment 2005” survey
    methodology or the questions related to flag desecration, contact Professor Ken
    Dautrich (860/778-4195; e-mail: dautrichkj@yahoo.com) or Professor David
    Yalof (860/508-2756; david.yalof@cox.net), University of

    Media contact
    Jenny Atkinson
    615/727-1325 or jatkinson@fac.org

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