Flag Protection Act heads to committee

Tuesday, March 24, 1998

A key sponsor of the Flag Protection Act said he plans to run the proposed constitutional amendment through its paces in the coming months before sending it to the full Senate.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told a breakfast gathering of the American Legion in Washington, D.C., this morning that he hopes to have the bill ready by summer or early fall.

Hatch and Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., introduced the flag-desecration resolution together last month. About 50 other senators joined in as co-sponsors. The bill faces its first debates at 2 p.m. EST Wednesday during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing.

The amendment requires two-thirds approval in both the House and the Senate, as well as ratification from 38 state legislatures.

In 1995, the House voted 312-120 on a flag amendment, which then failed in the Senate by three votes. Last year, the House passed a version of the amendment by a vote of 310-114, while a flag-protection act failed to clear the Senate.

Opponents to flag-protection bills say such legislation violates the very principles the flag symbolizes. The American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups opposed to the amendment, calls the proposed resolution a “dangerous threat to free speech.”

But Hatch said the flag “deserves our every effort to protect it.”

Hatch said Congress needs to amend the Constitution because the courts in the past have struck down federal and state statutes that sought to protect the flag. Most notably, the Supreme Court in the 1989 case Texas v. Johnson found unconstitutional a state law banning flag-burning. The court threw out a federal flag-protection law in U.S. v. Eichman the following year.

Hatch said an amendment would allow Congress and the states to draft legislation against flag-burning. The proposed amendment reads: “The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.”

“I recognize and am committed to our obligation to protect freedom of speech and other liberties,” Hatch told the American Legion. “But I think you and I know that our narrowly tailored amendment — Senate Joint Resolution 40, the Flag Protection Act — endangers none of our liberties, while restoring to the flag the legal protection it deserves.”

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