WASHINGTON — Senate leaders in both parties said yesterday there was no need for a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning, which the Senate plans to debate this week.
Protecting the First Amendment’s right to free speech takes precedence, agreed Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., each their party’s second-ranking Senate leader. Both said they would oppose the flag-burning amendment.
“I think the First Amendment has served us well for over 200 years. I don’t think it needs to be altered,” McConnell said on ABC’s “This Week.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-7 this month to send the constitutional amendment to the full Senate for consideration. Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has said the measure will get a Senate vote this month. That vote is expected in this week.
The amendment, which would protect the American flag from desecration, has been rejected before, but its chance of passing is improved this year.
“It is within one vote of passage. And I think that’s unfortunate,” Durbin said. “There are scarcely any instances across America where people are burning the flag. And yet, now we want to set aside the important business of the Senate, health care and energy policy and education and debate for an entire week this concept of amending our Bill of Rights.”
McConnell’s view on the issue isn’t shared by many in his own party, including Sen. Jim Bunning, his Republican colleague from Kentucky. Bunning spoke at a Flag Day news conference and brought along Rick Monday, a former Chicago Cubs outfielder who snatched a flag from protesters who were about to burn it during a 1976 game.
And former Miss America Heather French Henry and her husband, Dr. Steve Henry, have visited several Kentucky cities to voice support for the ban and to tell people McConnell could be the swing vote.
“I just want to see Kentucky be the one to get [the amendment] through,” French Henry told the Messenger-Inquirer of Owensboro during a visit to an American Legion Post on June 21. “We are the closest we’ve ever been.”
The House a year ago passed the bill 286-130, more than the required two-thirds of those present to pass.
The amendment reads: “The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.”
To become the Constitution’s 28th amendment, the language must be approved by two-thirds of those present in each chamber (67 votes in the Senate), then ratified within seven years by at least 38 state legislatures.