Measure to Outlaw Flag Burning Advances in Senate
Tue Jul 20, 1:33 PM ET Add Politics to My Yahoo!
By Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw the burning of the American flag won the approval on Tuesday of a Senate Judiciary Committee (news - web sites) split largely along party lines.
Raised by some Republicans as a mark of patriotism this election year, the measure passed on a 11-7 vote and was sent to the full Senate for final congressional approval. While the Senate has repeatedly rejected such measures in the past, both sides predict a razor-close vote this time.
The Judiciary Committee's vote came a week after a divided Senate blocked a White House-backed bid to amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, another issue Democrats have accused Republicans of pushing merely to rally their conservative base for the November elections.
Backers said the proposal is needed to protect a symbol of American democracy. But foes warned the measure would infringe on First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and expression.
The amendment was drafted in response to a 1989 Supreme Court decision that struck down a Texas law against flag desecration and a 1990 decision that ruled as unconstitutional a flag protection law passed by Congress. While flag burning had been frequently used as a symbol of protest against the Vietnam War, it has been rare in recent years.
"We're hopeful (of passage)," said committee chairman Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican who sponsored the measure with Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the only Democrat who voted for it.
"I worry about what we are doing here," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat.
Leahy noted that President Bush (news - web sites)'s secretary of state, Colin Powell (news - web sites), a retired four-star general, came out against such a measure in 1999.
Leahy quoted Powell as saying: "I would not amend that great shield of democracy to hammer a few miscreants. The flag will still be flying proudly long after they have slunk away."
Proponents are hopeful a new wave of patriotism in response to the war in Iraq (news - web sites) will help squeeze out needed votes, but foes say they are guardedly hopeful they can again block it.
In the past 15 years, a flag amendment has repeatedly sailed through the 435-member House only to fall a short in the 100-member Senate, including by four votes in 2000.
"It's desperately close," said Terri Ann Schroeder of the American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites), which opposes the proposal. "But I'm fairly confident we're going to prevail. We'll win."
The proposed measure would specifically amend the Constitution to permit Congress to pass a law to protect the flag from desecration.
For a proposed constitutional amendment to become law it must be approved by two-thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives and then ratified by 38 of the 50 states.
Vice presidential candidate John Edwards (news - web sites), a North Carolina senator, joined six fellow Democrats on the Judiciary Committee in voting against the proposed amendment. He voted by proxy.