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Students face off on the issues

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By Bethany Barnett – Special to Viewpoints

By Bethany Barnett – Special to Viewpoints

THE ISSUE:Until 1989, most states and the federal government had laws against burning the flag. But in two successive rulings the Supreme Court determined that it is speech completely protected by the First Amendment. Since then, Congress has passed an amendment to the Constitution five times. However, the Senate has twice rejected the Flag Protection Amendment by only four votes. The Senate will again vote on this issue this year. If passed, by the House, Senate, and 75 percent of the states, re-elected President George W. Bush will make it law.

THE VIEWPOINT:The Bill of Rights outlines our most basic American rights. It does not, however, give license to any kind of behavior.

Freedom of speech is a cherished American right, but to murder in the name of freely expressing oneself cannot be allowed in this upright society. Neither can flag burning.

The Flag Protection Amendment, designed to ban flag desecration, would simply punish the act of destroying our very symbol of American freedom. It would not, however, change the prerogative of Americans to express their opinions.

On the contrary, it would demand respect for the flag, and yet allow, if not encourage, Americans to express the same opinions in a less destructive manner.

A statement by the Citizens Flag Alliance says: “A statute passed under the proposed amendment will not make it unlawful to say anything, no matter how repugnant that statement might be. What will be proscribed, consistent with First Amendment case law, is certain conduct.”

The interest of those attempting to pass this amendment is summed up in three points. The first, according to the Citizens Flag Alliance, is “preserving the values embodied by the flag.” The American flag is our symbol, in physical form, for American pride. Destroying it is disrespecting everything Americans should seek to protect, and protecting it should be our highest priority. The second is “enhancing national unity.” Again, the American flag symbolizes everything that we are as a nation.

Destroying it destroys something in the hearts of every American, and that simply cannot be allowed. The third point is “protecting an Incident of our National Sovereignty.” These points sum up the reasons for this amendment. Those who disrespect all we stand for as a nation should be punished.

In the United States v. O’Brien in 1968, the Court outlined specific exceptions to not limiting free speech. They are as follows: (1) when the “prohibition is supported by a legitimate government interest unrelated to the suppression of the ideas the speaker desires to express . . . (2) the prohibition does not interfere with the speaker’s freedom to express those ideas by other means, and (3) when the interest in allowing the speaker complete freedom among all possible modes of expression is less important than the societal interest supporting the prohibition.” This is not limiting freedom of expression, as many would argue, but rather proactively protecting our freedom against those who seek to destroy and disrespect it.

In the case of this amendment, Americans must make a decision on what is important to them.

If they cherish their freedom and all that it symbolizes, they will support this amendment.

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