FLAG DESECRATION AMENDMENT--Continued -- (Senate - June 27, 2006)
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Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, the America flag is such an important symbol to our country that from the time we are children, we salute the flag with a hand over our hearts and pledge our allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. For the past two centuries, in battles all around the globe, the American flag has served as an inspiration and rallying point for our Armed Forces fighting for the ideals it embodies. We hold the flag with such reverence that it covers the coffin of America's military heroes who have dedicated their lives to the service of our Nation. Old Glory should be revered and protected because it represents American History, American sacrifice, and hope for our Nation's future.
On the Fourth of July, especially, we are reminded of the sacrifices of our forefathers in founding this great Nation, and the American flag symbolizes that sacrifice. The act of burning or destroying the flag shows a tremendous disrespect for our forefathers and the countless men and women who have given their lives to make the United States what it is today. That's why I am an original cosponsor of the flag protection amendment, and I rise to speak in support of it today.
By supporting this amendment, I believe that I am supporting the will of the people of Louisiana and the American people. I have received so many phone calls, letters, and e-mails from people in my home State of Louisiana in support of a constitutional amendment to prevent the desecration of our American flag. Polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans believe that burning the U.S. flag should be a crime. According to Fox News poll when asked, ``Do you think burning the American flag should be legal or illegal?'', 73 percent respondents said they thought it should be illegal.
Before the Supreme Court issued its decision in Texas v. Johnson, declaring that flag burning is politically expressive conduct protected by the first amendment, 48 States, including Louisiana, and the District of Columbia, had enacted statutes prohibiting the physical desecration of the American flag. In my opinion, the Johnson decision is just one more example of unelected activist judges ignoring the will of the American people. In response to the Court's decision in Johnson, Congress enacted the Flag Protection Act. However, in U.S. v. Eichman the Court struck down the Flag Protection Act, holding that Government's interest in protecting this symbol did not outweigh the individual's right to politically expressive conduct.
Since the Supreme Court issued these 2 decisions, all 50 States have passed resolutions asking Congress to pass a constitutional amendment that would provide some protection to the American flag. This is overwhelming evidence that the American people disagree with these activist decision and believe that the flag--the symbol of
Our nation--should be protected. I believe that we as Senators owe it to our constituents--as their elected representatives--to support this amendment and give Congress the power to enact a law banning the physical desecration of the U.S. Flag.
The Flag Protection Amendment gives Congress the power to enact laws prohibiting the ``physical desecration'' of the flag. This amendment does not ban flag burning--it doesn't ban anything. It merely gives Congress the power to enact legislation if and only if three-fourth of the States ratify the amendment within 7 years. Therefore, this amendment would place the power back into the hands of the American people, which, in my mind, is much better than leaving it in the hands of activist judges.
Opponents of this amendment state that any laws prohibiting physical desecration of the flag, no matter how narrowly tailored, violate an individual's first Amendment right to free speech. However, while the first amendment grants Americans the precious right to free speech, that right is not without limitations. For example, the Supreme Court has held that certain types of hate speech and obscenity are not covered under the first amendment. Additionally, public school teachers may not espouse their personal religious views in the classroom, and attorneys and doctors cannot breach the confidence of their clients.
The first amendment protects a number of avenues for individuals to voice their dissent, but it should not protect the physical desecration of the symbol that embodies the spirit of our Nation.
It is time for the Senate to pass the flag protection amendment--an amendment that has overwhelming bipartisan support and 59 cosponsors. The House passed this amendment last year by two-third majority. Now it is time for the Senate to pass this amendment so that we can send it to States and give the American people a chance to vote on this very important legislation. Mr. President, I believe that protecting the symbol of our Nation is one of our duties as elected representatives of the American people, and it is too important to leave in the hands of activist judges.
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