Flag Measure Down, but Probably Not out the Flag Amendment Failed to Pass This Year, but Backers, Such as Senate Co-Sponor Orrin G. Hatch, Haven't Given Up

By Orrin G. Hatch. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah is on the Senate Judiciary Committee. | The Christian Science Monitor, June 26, 1990 | Go to article overview

Flag Measure Down, but Probably Not out the Flag Amendment Failed to Pass This Year, but Backers, Such as Senate Co-Sponor Orrin G. Hatch, Haven't Given Up


Orrin G. Hatch. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah is on the Senate Judiciary Committee., The Christian Science Monitor


I FAVOR a Constitutional amendment to empower Congress and the states to prohibit the physical desecration of the American flag.

I do not measure anyone's patriotism or love of the flag on the basis of individual support of, or opposition to, an amendment.

But I sincerely believe that the opponents of the amendment have, in good faith, posed a false choice to the Congress and the American people. In effect, they say that if you want to protect the flag from desecration, you have to trample on the First Amendment. If you want to safeguard the First Amendment, you have to let desecrators trample on the flag.

I sincerely believe we face no such choice.

Everyone acknowledges the uniqueness of the flag. Justice Stevens, in his Texas v. Johnson dissent, put it best: "A country's flag is a symbol of more than nationhood and national unity. It also signifies the ideas that characterize the society that has chosen that emblem as well as the special history that has animated the growth and power of those ideas."

We all know what the American flag signifies to Americans and to people all over the world. There is no other flag in the world like it.

In my view, the flag amendment would not amend the First Amendment. It overturns two Supreme Court decisions which I believe were wrongly decided. By overturning this judicial gloss, we restore the First Amendment to its original meaning in this area.

For years, 48 states and the federal government prohibited flag desecration. Was freedom of speech violated in this country all those years? I think not. The prohibition of such conduct prevented no idea from being expressed in numerous ways.

Distinguished jurists regarded as great First Amendment champions agreed that such conduct did not fall within the ambit of the First Amendment.

Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote, "I believe that the States and the federal government do have the power to protect the flag from acts of desecration and disgrace...." Justice Hugo Black - generally regarded as a First Amendment absolutist - stated, "It passes my belief that anything in the federal constitution bars a state from making the deliberate burning of the American flag an offense." Justice Abe Fortas wrote, "The States and the Federal government have the power to protect the flag, from acts of desecration committed in public. …

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Flag Measure Down, but Probably Not out the Flag Amendment Failed to Pass This Year, but Backers, Such as Senate Co-Sponor Orrin G. Hatch, Haven't Given Up
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