WASHINGTON — The leading group in the effort to ban flag desecration vowed to continue its quest despite yesterday's narrow defeat in the Senate of a proposal to allow Congress to protect the flag.
The 66-34 tally on the flag amendment yesterday was one less than the two-thirds, or 67 votes, required to send it to the states for ratification. The House cleared the two-thirds threshold last year, 286-130.
Sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the amendment read: "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States." The measure was S.J. Res. 12.
Retired Maj. Gen. Patrick H. Brady, chairman of the Citizens Flag Alliance, which has spearheaded the flag-protection movement, said in a statement after the vote:
“Despite an overwhelming majority of Americans that want our flag protected, the U.S. Senate has ignored the people they represent. Some Senators claimed that there are more pressing matters to attend to; however, it is never the wrong time to do the right thing.
"While we are disappointed that the flag amendment did not pass in the Senate, the Citizens Flag Alliance, representing 147 organization and over 20 million members, remains committed to returning the right of the people to protect our flag.”
The flag amendment's nail-biting defeat a week before Independence Day represented Congress' response to Supreme Court rulings in 1989 and 1990 that burning and other desecration of the flag are protected as free speech by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Senate supporters said the flag amounts to a national monument in cloth that represents freedom and the sacrifice of American troops.
"Countless men and women have died defending that flag," said Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., closing two days of debate. "It is but a small humble act for us to defend it."
Opponents said the amendment would violate the First Amendment right to free speech. And some Democrats complained that majority Republicans were exploiting people's patriotism for political advantage.
"Our country's unique because our dissidents have a voice," said Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, a World War II veteran who lost an arm in the war and was decorated with the Medal of Honor.
"While I take offense at disrespect to the flag," he said, "I nonetheless believe it is my continued duty as a veteran, as an American citizen, and as a United States senator to defend the constitutional right of protesters to use the flag in nonviolent speech."
Among possible presidential contenders in 2008, six voted yes: Democrat Evan Bayh of Indiana and Republicans George Allen of Virginia, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Frist, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, and John McCain of Arizona. Five, all Democrats, voted no: Joseph Biden of Delaware, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, John Kerry of Massachusetts.
The Senate also rejected an alternative put forward by assistant Democratic leader Dick Durbin of Illinois. It would have made it against the law to damage the flag on federal land or with the intent of breaching the peace or intimidation. It also would have prohibited unapproved demonstrations at military funerals.
The House meanwhile passed by voice vote yesterday a measure that would bar condominium and homeowner associations from restricting how the flag can be displayed.
Sponsored by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., the resolution would prohibit those groups from preventing residents from displaying an American flag on their own property. The Senate is considering whether to bring up the measure this year.