Flag Needs Protection - USA Today

On the morning of February 24, 1945 — when I was a 12-year-old girl — I picked up a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle. On its cover, there was a full-page picture of the now iconic Joe Rosenthal photograph of American marines raising the United States flag at Iwo Jima.

For me and for the nation, the photograph was a jolt of electricity boosting our morale during the terrible island-to-island Pacific battles of World War II. The sight of those troops hoisting Old Glory forever cemented my view of our flag.

Today, our flag remains a vibrant symbol of our democracy, our shared values, our commitment to justice, and our eternal memory of those who have sacrificed to defend these principles. It is because of all that our flag embodies that I have co-sponsored the Flag Protection Amendment.

Throughout our nation's history, the flag has been protected by law. In 1989, 48 of our 50 states had statutes restricting flag desecration. In 1974, Supreme Court Justice Byron White wrote that: "(T)here would seem to be little question about the power of Congress to forbid the mutilation of the Lincoln Memorial or to prevent overlaying it with words or other objects. The flag is itself a monument, subject to similar protection."

I agree with Justice White — the American flag is our monument in cloth.

But its protection ended in 1989, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas law prohibiting flag desecration. Congress responded by passing the Flag Protection Act of 1989, but the Supreme Court struck down that law as well. The only way to restore protection to the flag is to amend the Constitution. Otherwise, any legislation passed by Congress would be struck down.

The Flag Protection Amendment would not prohibit flag burning. Rather, the Amendment would simply return to Congress the ability to protect the flag as it has been protected throughout most of this nation's history.

Some opponents of the Flag Protection Amendment argue that we must choose between trampling on the flag and trampling on the First Amendment. I strongly disagree.

There is no idea or thought expressed by the burning of the American flag that cannot be expressed equally well in another manner. This Amendment would leave both the flag and free speech safe.