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63% oppose flag-burning amendment, new survey shows
News release

By the First Amendment Center
06.10.05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The number of Americans who oppose a constitutional amendment that would give Congress the power to punish flag-burning as protest is up sharply from 2004, according to a survey released today by the First Amendment Center.

The “State of the First Amendment 2005” survey, conducted in May, shows:

  • 63% of those sampled said the U.S. Constitution “should not be amended to prohibit burning or desecrating the American flag,” up from 53% in 2004 and the highest number against the proposed amendment since the annual survey began in 1997.

  • 35% said the Constitution “should be amended” — down from 45% in 2004.

    “This issue involves one of the nation’s most fundamental First Amendment guarantees, the right of free speech; and what many consider the most-venerated symbol of our nation, honored each year on Flag Day, June 14,” said Gene Policinski, executive director of the First Amendment Center.

    “I have no doubt that most Americans want the flag to be protected and respected, but clearly more Americans seem to be having second thoughts about using a constitutional amendment to deal with the issue of flag desecration, and about the impact such a dramatic move would have on free speech,” he said.

    Public support for an anti-flag desecration amendment has shifted up and down each year since a 49-49% split in 1997, but the 2005 survey’s 63-35% result is the widest division of opinion yet recorded in the center’s annual polling.

    Attempts have been made to punish flag desecration at local, state and national levels since the Civil War. But since the 1970s, the U.S. Supreme Court has held in several cases (see Texas v. Johnson (1989) and United States v. Eichman (1990)) that burning the flag as a form of political or social protest is protected speech.

    Five proposals to amend the Constitution to punish flag desecration have been adopted by the House since 1995, but all have faltered in the Senate — most recently, failing in 2003 by just two votes.

    On May 25, the House Judiciary Committee approved H.J.R. 10, a constitutional amendment to ban the physical desecration of the U.S. flag, setting the stage for a full vote in the House, where it will need a two-thirds majority to be approved. No date for a vote has yet been set.

    If ratified, the current proposal would become the 28th Amendment. Following House and Senate approval, the proposed amendment would be submitted to the states, where three-fourths — 38 states — are needed for approval. All 50 state legislatures have at one time or another adopted resolutions in support of an anti-flag-desecration amendment.

    The First Amendment Center commissioned New England Survey Research Associates to conduct a general public survey of attitudes about the First Amendment. The survey was conducted by telephone between May 13 and May 23, 2005. The sampling error for 1,003 national interviews is +/- 3.1% at the 95% level of confidence. The sample error is larger for sub-groups.

    (See the questions on flag desecration included in the “State of the First Amendment 2005” survey.)

    The First Amendment Center works to preserve and protect First Amendment freedoms through information and education. The center serves as a forum for the study and exploration of free-expression issues, including freedom of speech, of the press and of religion, the right to assemble and petition the government. The First Amendment Center, with offices at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and Arlington, Va., is an operating program of the Freedom Forum and is associated with the Newseum.

    # # #

    For information about the “State of the First Amendment 2005” survey methodology or the questions related to flag desecration, contact Professor Ken Dautrich (860/778-4195; e-mail: dautrichkj@yahoo.com) or Professor David Yalof (860/508-2756; david.yalof@cox.net), University of Connecticut.

    Media contact
    Jenny Atkinson
    615/727-1325 or jatkinson@fac.org


  • Related

    House again passes flag-burning amendment

    Opponents say amending Constitution unnecessary, noting flag-burning incidents are few and far between. 06.22.05

    Flag amendment may lack votes to pass Senate
    Associated Press finds 35 senators on record as opposing constitutional amendment to let Congress outlaw flag desecration — one more than number needed to defeat it. 06.23.05

    First Amendment 2005 survey touches headline issues
    Questions gauge public's view on public-property Ten Commandments displays, flag-burning amendment, library records access. Full survey 07.11.05

    Frist announces new push for flag amendment
    Senate majority leader's position puts him at odds with Republican Whip Mitch McConnell, a leading opponent of constitutional ban on flag-burning. 03.13.06

    Flag-desecration questions: State of the First Amendment 2005

    Flag-burning overview


    Flag-burning horizon


    News summary page
    View the latest news stories throughout the First Amendment Center Online.

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