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Flag desecration amendment fails in Senate

March 29, 2000
Web posted at: 6:11 p.m. EST (2311 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- For the fourth time since 1989, the U.S. Senate on Wednesday defeated a constitutional amendment that would ban desecration of the U.S. flag -- falling four votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage.

Proponents of the amendment, mostly Republicans, have consistently tried to pass the constitutional amendment in response to a 1989 Supreme Court decision that determined destruction of the flag by burning or other means was protected as free speech under the First Amendment.

The bill that would have set the wheels in motion toward creation of a constitutional amendment failed Wednesday afternoon by a vote of 63-37, despite arguments by proponents that the flag is a unique symbol of American sovereignty and pride which should not be destroyed.

"Burning the flag is not speech, it's conduct of the most offensive kind," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, (R-Mississippi). "Protecting the right of individuals to destroy property has no relation to the question of whether people are free to speak or to write or campaign or petition against the leaders of their government."

Opponents argued that the ban would infringe on freedom of expression, and that such an issue is not worthy of a constitutional amendment.

"We must curb this reflexive practice of attempting to cure each and every political and social ill of our nation by tampering with the Constitution," said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). "The Constitution of this country was not a rough draft. It was not a rough draft and we should not treat it as such."

McConnell offered an amendment to the measure that would have made flag desecration a statutory crime, illegal without amending the Constitution. It failed Tuesday by a vote of 36 to 64.

The vote coincided with the Washington conference of the American Legion, a group that has lobbied heavily on behalf of a ban on flag desecration. Some 2,000 members converged on the Capitol on Tuesday for a rally and to prod their senators to support the measure -- causing opponents to cry foul and claim the debate was scheduled for the Legionnaires' benefit.

Lott took time on the floor to defend his decision to take Senate time on what some called a "narrow issue."

"I believe this issue is more important than any appropriation, or any new set of regulations, for it goes to the heart of who we are as a people and what we are as a nation," he said.

The House of Representatives passed the amendment by more than the two-thirds required majority last year.

In a statement before the vote, the bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), vowed to bring up the measure again. "We'll be back," he said. "We're not going to stop until we get this measure approved. Sooner or later we'll get enough people here to get this amendment passed."


Wednesday, March 29, 2000



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