Guest Author - Evelyn Rainey
On April 30, 2009, Republican Jo Ann Emerson sponsored bill H.J.RES. 47, asking for a Constitutional Amendment which would prohibit the physical desecration of the US Flag.
Within eight months, it had seventy-nine cosponsors: 22 Democrats, 57 Republicans.
The procedure for any bill or resolution begins with an introduction, then it is passed to committees which “deliberate, investigate, and revise them”. If a bill ever makes it past a committee, it goes to a general debate. Three-fourths of the states (75%) must vote to ratify this resolution. However, it may also be signed into law by the president unless it is a constitutional amendment.
The key phrase in this constitutional amendment is “physical desecration” . The Encarta Dictionary: English (North America) defines:
1. Insult something holy—to damage something sacred, or do something that is offensive to the religious nature of something
2. Damage something revered – to damage something that is held dear or revered
1. Of body – relating to the body, rather than to the mind, the soul, or the feelings
2. Real and touchable – existing in the real material world, rather than as an idea or notion and able to be touched and seen
The concept seems simple enough to have been used in more than a few country songs, Don’t mess with the Flag! It needs to be pointed out that the US Flag is considered a living symbol of our nation; therefore, it is inherently ‘dear’, ‘sacred’, and ‘physical’.
However, some politicians just don’t seem to look at things the same way as country songwriters, I reckon. There have been many attempts to develop, implement, and support laws against desecrating Old Glory.
The Federal Flag Desecration Law was adopted by Congress in 1968, making it illegal to knowingly cast contempt upon any flag of the United States by publicly mutilating, defacing, defiling, burning or trampling upon it.
Well, that word contempt got some people upset with the idea that contempt was an acceptable expression of freedom of speech. Encarta defines this word as “attitude of utter disgust or hatred – a powerful feeling of dislike toward somebody or something considered to be worthless, inferior, or undeserving of respect.” So the next ten years were spent revising State Flag Desecration Statutes narrowing and focusing on the physical aspects of abuse and relaxing on the side of verbal or political abuse and commercial misuse of the flag. (Yes, I have a t-shirt and a sweater with the American Flag on them. I also have it as stationery. I’m sorry. I wear the clothing with pride as I vote and attend the 4th of July activities.)
In 1989, the Federal Flag Desecration Statute was revised, largely in part due to Texas vs. Johnson being upheld by the Supreme Court. They kept the word “desecrate” and deleted the word “contempt” as a cause.
In 1990, Congress considered amending the Constitution to specify that the Congress and the States have the power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States. This amendment was rejected when it failed to be supported by a two-thirds majority vote.
So here we are, ten years later, trying again to define the concept of respect for the symbol of our nation.
As WWII came to a close, Congress established a Flag Code (in 1942) which has been updated every now and then, but is based on the American Legion’s meticulous standards of Flag Etiquette. It’s a code, not a law, so if violated, there is no legal repercussion. Politically motivated violations of the Flag Code are upheld by the Supreme Court as being protected under the First Amendment. In light of the proposed amendment H.J.RES 47, take a moment to read over section 8 (directly quoted from the code, but abridged by ER):
§8. Respect for flag
No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.
a. The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
b. The flag should never touch anything beneath it (ER).
c. The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally,(ER).
d. The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. (ER)
e. The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
f. The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.
g. The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.
h. The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
i. The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. (ER)
j. No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
k. The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning
(I did say meticulous.)
Let your duly elected officials know where you stand on the constitutional amendment to prohibit the physical desecration of the US Flag. And don’t forget to let Jo Ann Emerson know how you feel about her decision to initiate this amendment! Speak to your senators, write your representatives. Email them! It’s still stuck in the committee. Tell your politicians how you feel – one way or the other.
You fought for the freedom of having a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” There’s no such thing as a silent Democracy. Let your voice be heard on this issue!
June 14 is Flag Day. Fly Her Proudly and with Honor.