‘On the protection of freedom’

Wednesday, July 15, 1998

For some, perhaps for many, the decision by the U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, to vote against approval of a constitutional amendment that would protect the U.S. flag will be cause for anger … at the very least, concern that one of Iowa’s top elected officials might be something other than a patriotic American.

We applaud Harkin’s decision.

Legislators who want to ban flag desecration have sought such a constitutional remedy frequently since a 1989 Supreme Court decision ruled flag-desecration bans are prohibited by the First Amendment.

One such attempt to amend the Constitution was passed overwhelmingly by the House last year but died in the Senate. Passed again by the Judiciary Committee in June, it must now win two-thirds approval from the Senate, followed by approval from at least two-thirds of the states before it can take effect.

Sponsored by the committee chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the amendment is supported by at least 60 other senators, including eight Democrats. It needs six more votes to pass.

Harkin said that his will not be one of the six votes needed.

Harkin said his research indicated there have been “half a dozen cases” of flag burning in the last few years.

Harkin moved closer to the root of the problem when he noted, “We can’t chase every little problem with a constitutional amendment.”

And, in our view, he hit the nail squarely on the head when he commented, “Banning flag burning would be the beginning of the end of our Bill of Rights.”

We suspect that Harkin, like millions of other Americans, is angered when someone — to draw attention to whatever the cause — sets fire to the symbol of our nation.

But he also understands — as we all should attempt to understand — that the flag is only a symbol of a nation that grants its citizens more freedom than any other country in the world.

It is those freedoms we must protect — not the pieces of cloth that represent them.