Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The Flag-Burning Amendment may become an issue...again

What is Orrin Hatch thinking? This bastard has important issues such as the war in Iraq, economic recovery, health care, and homeland security, and yet he really believes that the American people give a flying fuck about someone buring a flag? We would be fortunate indeed if the terrorists displayed their hatred of America by entering our nation and burning flags in protest. If only we were so lucky.

Hatch and the conservative wackos, who apparently aren't paying attention to the real world, have brought back the flag-burning amendment which has appeared from time-to-time in Congress and the Senate. Just in time for Flag Day, the conservaties are planning to rally the false-patriots around an idolic representation of our nation in an effort to deal a severe blow to the First Amendment. PFAW offers the following:
If the amendment passes, it would be the first time in the nation’s more than 200-year history that the Bill of Rights has been amended to restrict Americans’fundamental liberties.

Is there any need for this change to the Constitution? Apparently not from a law enforcement standpoint.
Of the 122 incidents, at least two-thirds (76) involved crimes that are already covered by local criminal statutes—including theft, vandalism, destruction of property, trespassing, disorderly conduct or public disturbance, according to the information on CFA’s own site. In many of the very cases that CFA cites, for example, an arrest was made on multiple charges. Some examples, taken directly from CFA’s own website, are:

October 30, 2001, Langley, VA: Oleg S. Asserin, 18, a George Mason University student was charged with burning the US flag in a fire that damaged nearly two acres of woodland in northern Virginia. Asserin was arrested on a felony charge of setting a fire capable of spreading and a misdemeanor charge of burning the US flag. The fire burned about two acres of brush before it was extinguished. Firefighters found a charred American flag among the damage.

September 2, 2002, Melbourne, KY: Four teen-age boys were charged with desecrating a dozen of the 24 American flags on display for Labor Day. The boys told detectives they just had an itch to destroy things.

September 11, 2002, Ann Arbor, MI: Two teenagers were arrested after allegedly setting an American flag on fire at the University of Michigan. Police reported the boys ignited the flag near the school's Hill Auditorium and then ran away. A university spokeswoman said the teens were not students or affiliated with the university but were just walking around looking for trouble. Both boys were arrested when they returned to the scene.

December 26, 2002, Boca Raton, FL: Police suspect vandals in a flag burning at a golf club. Somebody lowered the golf club’s large American flag that was flying outside the pro shop, set it on fire and then ran it back up the flagpole.

These are examples of offensive and distasteful destruction of public or other people’s property, not free speech. However, since current criminal penalties can be applied in each of these cases, no constitutional amendment is needed to protect the people of Langley, VA, Melbourne, KY, Ann Arbor, MI, Boca Raton, FL or any other of our towns and cities.

Why, then, is this issue even being raised? The answer is pretty obvious, and should be expected from a conservative group famous for using inane reasons to stir up the "base" in a battle against some moral cause. However, as the PFAM have pointed out:
To be sure, most Americans clearly disagree with flag-burning. But the framers of the Bill of Rights, constitutional experts and Americans across the political spectrum agree that the purpose and power of the First Amendment is that it protects all forms of political expression, regardless of how popular or unpopular...

Proponents of the flag desecration amendment say they want to restore “respect for the flag.” But using the flag amendment as a distraction, and the flag as a divisive political wedge isn’t showing respect. The Constitution, the First Amendment, and the American people deserve better than to be manipulated in a cynical ploy for political advantage.

I think the proper position on this was summed up, amazingly, from someone inside the Bush administration.
In a letter sent to Senator Patrick Leahy in May 1999, General Colin Powell, now Secretary of State, wrote “The First Amendment exists to insure that freedom of speech and expression applies not just to that with which we agree or disagree, but also that which we find outrageous. I would not amend that great shield of democracy to hammer a few miscreants. The flag will be flying proudly long after they have slunk away.”

We think Secretary Powell had it right. Destroying or damaging an American flag is highly offensive, and quite often is punishable by existing criminal statutes. But the rare instances of flag burning as a political protest are exactly what the First Amendment is intended to protect. As the late Justice Brennan wrote for the Supreme Court in Texas v. Johnson, “[t]he way to preserve the flag’s special role is not to punish those who feel differently about these matters. It is to persuade them that they are wrong…We can imagine no more appropriate response to burning a flag than waving one’s own.”

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