Senators propose amendment to prevent flag burning

Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the ranking member and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, respectively, on Tuesday introduced an amendment to the Constitution that would allow Congress to pass laws preventing the physical desecration of the American flag. Tuesday was Flag Day.

The two senators have introduced this legislation in the past, and believe that an amendment is needed in order to give Congress the right to protect the flag. Hatch explained on Tuesday that under a 1990 Supreme Court ruling, burning or destroying the flag is protected speech, and that any law against these actions is unconstitutional.

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"I believe the court was wrong in that conclusion, but because the court claimed to speak for the Constitution, the only way for Congress once again to have authority to protect the flag is by amending the Constitution," Hatch said.

Hatch said the amendment is a single-sentence addition to the Constitution: "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States." He also stressed that this addition alone would not immediately prohibit flag desecration, but gives Congress the option of passing legislation on this matter.

"In fact, should Congress propose and the states ratify this amendment, it might not result in any change in the law at all," Hatch said. "That would be up to Congress and the people we represent to decide."

To amend the Constitution, the measure would have to pass the House and the Senate by a two-thirds majority, and then have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states, or at least 37 states.

Other co-sponsors to the bill are Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and David Vitter (R-La.).