Protecting the flag will burn free speech

The U.S. government seems to be ignoring the irony of the current flag-burning amendment. The flag is a symbol of the freedom in our country. Restricting U.S. citizens from using the flag for political protest desecrates the very freedom the flag symbolically represents. Senators should not vote in favor of the proposed constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration. It not only violates the intent of the First Amendment, but would also increase the effectiveness as political speech for those who still choose to desecrate the flag.
The reasons given for passage of the amendment do not appear to support it at all. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, justifies his vote for the amendment by saying, “Without a strong value system, our children cannot distinguish good from bad or right from wrong.” How exactly banning flag burning will provide our children with the knowledge that murder is wrong, or stealing is bad remains unclear. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. said she supports the amendment because the flag “is a monument in fabric that hangs as a symbol of our nation.” While this may be true, it does not offer any reason why burning that monument should be made illegal.
Flag burning is not something that occurs frequently. In the last six years, the Citizens Flag Alliance, a coalition that supports the amendment, has documented only 22 instances of flag burning that were remotely political in nature. If the amendment is ratified, the situation might change dramatically. Those who sponsor the amendment do not seem to realize the additional power a constitutional amendment would give to those who still choose to burn the flag. Currently, it garners a reaction mainly because of the extreme taboo of the action. If jail time is added to the taboo nature, the action will become an even more powerful tool of protest. Those who burn the flag might be viewed as martyrs, serving time for doing no more than protesting what they see as unfair U.S. policies. Passage is also likely to increase the numbers of incidents, as the act will gain not only additional notoriety, but will be seen as the most extreme form of protest available.
Most important, though, is the simple fact that the amendment violates freedom of speech. The clear and simple intention of the amendment is to prevent a certain kind of political protest and to punish those who still choose to make that type of protest. It sets a frightening precedent for allowing the government to ban speech deemed too disruptive.
There is no question the burning of the U.S. flag is an extremely emotional act. It brings up powerful responses of patriotism and also causes us to question our loyalty to what the flag represents. Seeing the flag burned makes many uneasy. But that is all the more reason to protect the action. All speech needs to be protected — not just speech that makes us comfortable and reassures us that our beliefs are good and right, but also speech that makes us extremely uncomfortable and forces us to question our most deeply held beliefs. Passage of the flag burning amendment would be a prodigious blow to free-speech rights in this country. The Senate should reject the amendment.