Should Flag Burning Be Allowed?

This is one of the more controversial questions of our day. In 1989, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it should be, citing the First Amendment. Since then, a movement has developed to pass an amendment banning flag desecration. It has easily passed the House, but never the Senate. Now, given the new makeup of the Senate (55 Republicans), some speculate that 2005 could be the year it finally passes. If it does, it will easily be passed by virtually every state legislature in the country (38 are needed — and all 50 say they would pass it).

The debate was renewed in today’s Sentinel, with Paul McMasters of the First Amendment Center arguing against the amendment: “Do we really want to eviscerate the First Amendment, written expressly to protect the voice of the individual or the minority, speaking out against official acts or policies?” he asks. He goes on to point out that the term “desecration” could be loosely interpreted to mean even allowing the flag to touch the ground, thus giving federal prosecutors far too much power. He goes on to suggest that such an amendment might have a backlash: more flags could be burned in protest.

Gerald Clark, a chaplain of the Knoxville American Legion, argues in favor of the amendment, pointing out that the vast majority of Americans support it. He continues:

Let’s cut to the chase. Protecting the flag is not about free speech. It is not about tinkering with the Constitution… It is not about tolerating of those with different views. It is about the kind of people we are. It is about different kinds of people wrestling with the soul of America.

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