Thursday, June 22, 2006

Has Bush Violated the Constitution Again?

The U.S. Senate will likely vote next week on a constitutional amendment that would criminalize desecration of the U.S. flag. The Senate Judiciary Committee gave its nod to the amendment last week, moving it to the Senate floor. Both parties say it could be within one vote of passing.

A year ago the House of Representatives passed the same legislation by the required two-thirds margin. Should the Senate also pass the amendment, 38 state legislatures would need to ratify it within seven years for the amendment to be added to the U.S. Constitution.

If that happens, it will be the first time in 214 years that the Bill of Rights has been restricted by a constitutional amendment. It will also place the U.S. among a select group of nations that have banned flag desecration: Cuba, China, Iran and Iraq (under Saddam Hussein).

Flag burning is exceedingly rare in this country. Since the Supreme Court's 1990 flag decision in United States v. Eichman, there have been fewer than 70 burning incidents, according to Lawrence J. Korb, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Senator Joe Biden (D-Delaware) says the amendment is too vague because it doesn't define desecration.

The amendment would ``leave to the authority of the government to make a subjective judgment as to whether or not the action taken relative to the flag is a violation of the law,'' Biden said.

That could permit the prosecution of women on beaches ``wearing a very skimpy bathing suit'' decorated with the flag's stars and stripes, he said. ``Is that desecration of the flag?''

The proposed amendment is phrased in such broad and vague language that it could have unintended consequences, such as censorship of images of the flag in works of art, advertising, or commerce. Additionally, the amendment would permit prosecution of individuals who purchase these works of art, or who use advertisements that desecrate the flag. This could happen even though these consumers intend no disrespect.

"The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States," the amendment reads. If it became part of the Constitution, the House and Senate would have to pass separate legislation to ban flag burning, mutilation or other forms of desecration.

Which begs the question, if I burn my flag and bury the ashes to properly dispose of it, would I be violating the Constitution?

But perhaps more important to those supporting the amendment, would George Bush be violating the constitution when he signs U.S. flags?.