Flag faces off with freedom of speech
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Burning the an American flag seems leave most people conflicted between their emotional attachment to the stars-spangled banner and freedom of speech. A bill to make the add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution making flag burning illegal passed in the House of Representatives last week, 286-130.Tracey Scoplite, a 42-year-old from Texas visiting the Vail Valley, said she’s torn on the issue.”I’m a big proponent of the First Amendment, but in these turbulent times I feel bad when I see somebody mistreating the flag,” Scoplite said. “I wish people would find another way to show their unhappiness with whatever the government is doing or what they’re unhappy about.”
Congress has traditionally defined desecration as an act by anyone who “knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any U.S. flag.” Colorado’s congressional delegates largely agree desecrating the star-spangled banner should be illegal nationwide.But Eagle County’s congressman, Mark Udall, was not willing to change the Constitution to achieve that end. “I do not support burning the flag, but I am even more opposed to weakening the First Amendment, one of the most important things for which the flag itself stands,” the Boulder County Democrat said.”Every day, at home and abroad, our brave men and women in uniform are on guard to defend our country and our Constitution from those who have no respect for either,” Udall said.He was joined in the dissent by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, another Front Range Democrat. But five members of Congress from Colorado voted with the majority to support an amendment to the Constitution that would give Congress the power to prohibit ill-treatment to the flag as a means of protest.”When I walked over to the Capitol to vote on the amendment, there were veterans standing quietly on the sidewalk,” said U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, a Republican from Colorado’s eastern plains. “They know what our flag represents and they have made great sacrifices for our freedom.”
Musgrave was joined by Republican Reps. Joel Hefley, Thomas Tancredo, Bob Beauprez and Democratic Rep. John Salazar. Tancredo is a co-sponsor of the bill. Both Sen. Wayne Allard and Sen. Ken Salazar are co-sponsors of the bill on the Senate side. The Senate will vote on the measure after the Fourth of July holiday.”The flag is special and deserves our reverence and protection,” Sen. Salazar, a Democrat, wrote in a letter to the original sponsors, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. But the Supreme Court has also never given much encouragement to sponsors of such measures. In 1989 it ruled that burning the American flag is a form of free speech protected by the Constitution. In 1990 it struck down similar legislation from Congress, ruling that it violated free speech rights. Still, the House tried again in 2001 and 2003, but neither proposal met approval in the Senate. Some want to try again nonetheless. And while the latest House attempt passed with eight more votes than needed to meet the two-thirds requirement for constitutional measures, it is less than the 2003 margin.
“There’s a difference between free speech and method of free speech,” said Trent Hubbard, 34, of Avon. “It’s a gray area. Burning things is a method, it isn’t necessarily free speech.”Vail Daily reporter Veronica Whitney contributed to this report. Vail, Colorado