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Jewish World Review / July 9, 1998 / 15 Tamuz, 5758

Roger Simon

Roger Simon Flag burning
is for nuts!

WASHINGTON -- It would be unfair to call the current Congress a do-nothing Congress. After all, it did change the name of National Airport to Ronald Reagan National Airport.

And after an achievement like that, you'd think the lawmakers would want to rest on their laurels (or whatever else they are used to resting on).

But no, they want to leave us with one lasting achievement: For the first time in U.S. history, they want to alter the First Amendment.

And they want to do it for a very good reason: They want to solve a problem that doesn't exist.

The problem is a considerable one nonetheless.

Ever since the Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that flag burning was a form of free speech, outbreaks of flag burning have swept across our land.

Hardly a day goes by without several hundred flags being burned.

As you all have noticed in your daily lives, it is sometimes difficult to walk down the street without seeing a flag burned.

And burning is just a small part of it. Who among us can say that we do not see flags trampled, stomped on or eaten nearly every single day?

When is the last time you were able to turn on a television show or go to the theater or see movie and not be assaulted by somebody destroying our national symbol?

It is relentless, it is appalling, it is ... pure fiction.

There is no problem with flag desecration in America today.

There are other problems to be sure: a Social Security system in danger of going bankrupt, homeless people on the streets everywhere you look, and a continuing national drug epidemic.

But what are the people in Congress doing? They are about to amend the Constitution so that nobody can desecrate a flag. They think.

Here is the whole amendment: "The Congress shall have the power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States."

Our lawmakers thought they should keep it simple so they all could understand it.

But is it simple? Not really.

What, for instance, does "physical desecration" mean?

Burning a flag? Sure. Walking on the flag? Well, maybe. Wearing the flag? Gee, I don't know.

Nor does anybody else.

But, wait, it gets better.

What, precisely, is "the flag of the United States"?

Is it only flags that are made out of cloth in factories? What if I draw one on a piece of paper? Is that a flag? Can I burn it? And what if I manufacture a flag with a star missing? Does that mean it is not a flag and I can burn it? Or does the very act of excluding a star constitute desecration?

Nobody knows. You can't define the full range of human expression in a law. That's one reason the Supreme Court defined flag burning as speech.

But Congress knows better. Last year, the House approved the amendment, and on June 24, the Senate Judiciary Committee also approved it.

Observers say the amendment is just a few votes short of the two-thirds majority it needs for passage in the Senate -- 49 out of the 50 state legislatures have already passed resolutions to ratify it -- and the demagogues are demagoguing hard on this one.

If you don't vote for it, they will accuse you of not being a patriot. Which is why Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott may hold up the vote until October, so the Republicans can use it for the fall elections.

Which would mean the amendment has very little to do with patriotism and a lot to do with politics.

Since the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in 1791, only 17 amendments have been adopted, most of them on weighty matters such as ending slavery or limiting a president to two terms in office.

The amendment that attempted to change human behavior, the Prohibition Amendment, became the 18th Amendment and was repealed by the 21st Amendment.

But now some simple-minded folks in Congress want to try to change human behavior again. Everybody will be better Americans, they figure, if flag desecration, whatever that is, is outlawed.

What are some of the nations that currently outlaw flag desecration?

Cuba, Iran and Haiti.

Gee, what fine company. I sure hope we can get into that club.

What has happened in this country since flag desecration was defined as free speech? Nothing. There have been only a few isolated cases of flag desecration, and nobody has paid any attention to them.

These cases have not weakened America or the American principles that our flag represents.

Only the flag demagogues can do that.

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6/16/98: Maybe Big Brother ain't so bad after all
6/11/98: He claimed responsibility for Rwanda, so why isn't Bubba stopping Serbian genocide?
6/9/98: The Internet president?
6/4/98: You can call me ‘slick;' and you can call me ‘sick;' but never call me ‘Dick' .... as in Nixon, that is
6/2/98: Being a 'talkin'-head' is hard work
5/29/98 Pay the pol, pick the policy
5/27/98 A 'loo' in London
5/21/98Buba is back from Europe ... but what did he accomplish?
5/18/98Roses for Buba
5/12/98: Just who is "Mr. Republican" these days?"
5/7/98:"Why Clinton keeeps "going and going and going""
5/1/98:"Bubba v. Tabacka"
4/29/98:"You may ask, but should they tell?"
4/24/98:"McCurry and the kids from the ‘hood "
4/23/98: "NOW" should change its name to "THEN"
4/20/98: Freedom to be a jerk?
4/14/98: Bill is Hef's kinda guy
4/7/98: South African memories --- and a paradise not yet found
3/24/98: Bill's 12-day safari
3/20/98: Peace for Ireland?
3/18/98: Flat tire? Spare me
3/13/98: Latrell Sprewell's genius
3/10/98: On truth and reality
3/5/98: No, I'm not harrassing Hillary
3/3/98: The Unforgettable Henny Youngman
2/26/98: Grow up, boys!
2/24/98: Go get 'em, Bill!
2/19/98: My 15 minutes
2/17/98: The manic-depressive presidency
2/12/98: Drip, Drip, Drip
2/10/98: Clinton tunes out the networks
2/5/98: The flight of the Beast: America's love-hate relationship with scandal
2/3/98: Speaking Clintonese
1/29/98: What the president has going for him
1/27/98: Judgment call: how Americans view President Clinton
1/22/98: Bimbo eruptions past and present
1/20/98: Feeding the beast: Paula Jones gets the full O.J.
1/15/98: Let's get it over with: it's time to deal with Saddam, already
1/13/98: Sonny Bono is dead, let the good times roll
1/8/98: Carribbean Cheesecake: First couple has cake, eats cake
1/6/98: PO'ed: a suspected druggie jumps through the employment hoops
1/1/98: Cures for that holiday hangover
12/30/97: Buy stuff now
12/25/97: Peace to all squirrelkind
12/23/97: Home for the Holidays: Where John Hinckley, never convicted, will not be
12/18/97: Bill's B-list Bacchanalia: Press and politicos get cozy, to a point
12/16/97: All dressed up... (White House flack Mike McCurry speculates on his next career)

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.