Flag Burning Rekindled

a radio commentary broadcast on Jefferson Public Radio, May 6, 1997
(C)1997 by Fred Flaxman

HOST: Congress is once again considering approving an amendment to the Constitution which would make it illegal to burn an American flag as a form of protest. Commentator Fred Flaxman thinks that if this amendment were ever needed, it is now a quarter of a century too late. Here's the first of his two-part commentary on the subject.

FLAXMAN: The Republicans in Congress today are so conservative they are pushing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to solve a problem we haven't had for about 25 years- flag burning.

Do you remember when a U.S. flag was last burned in protest over something our government was doing? This was common enough during the Vietnam War, but, it seems to me, was nonexistent before that... and rare since. But, it's true, you can never tell when some leftist hippy will get it into his or her head to burn a U.S. flag again. Our great Constitution has only been amended 27 times in more than two centuries. Surely the possibility of someone desecrating the flag sometime in the future is important enough for a 28th amendment to be passed!

But there's is a big problem with such an amendment: It wouldn't work. In fact it would have just the opposite of its desired effect. It would result in more flag burning than ever.

The proposed amendment would do nothing to stop anyone from burning a flag who really wanted to do so. After all, when the Vietnam War protestors burned U.S. flags, they knew they were violating a law that existed then, and they "burned-baby-burn" anyway. If what they were doing had been legal, would they have gotten TV coverage?

Then, in 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned state and federal laws which had made it a crime to burn the American flag. The court voted 5-4 that flag burning was an act of political protest protected as free speech by the Constitution. Making flag burning LEGAL was a far more effective way to stop the practice than making it ILLEGAL ever was.

And here I thought Republicans were practical people!

This is Fred Flaxman.

HOST: Commentator Fred Flaxman is a writer and editor based in southern Oregon.