Photo by James V. Carroll

Parker: Amendments a part of the Constitution

Senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Max Baucus, D-Mont., introduced a constitutional amendment June 14 that would return to the American people the right to protect their flag. The one sentence amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 19, reads, "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States."

The measure enjoys wide support among the American public and the U.S. Congress. It has previously passed the House of Representatives six times, but fell only one vote shy of the two-thirds required in the Senate. A companion bill, House Joint Resolution 13, has been introduced in the House.

"The process for amending the Constitution - set forth in Article V - is part of the Constitution," said Richard Parker, Harvard Law School's Williams Professor of Law and board chairman of the Citizens Flag Alliance. "Indeed, it is its lynchpin. For it fastens the ongoing authority of the Constitution to its foundation in popular sovereignty."

The struggle to protect the flag from desecration was ignited shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that flag desecration was "protected speech." The 5-4 Texas v. Johnson decision invalidated flag-protection laws in 48 states and the District of Columbia.

To date, 50 states have passed memorializing resolutions asking Congress to pass the amendment and send it to the states for ratification.

"The Citizens Flag Alliance was formed in 1994 to restore to Congress the power - which it had for the first 200 years in our history - to defend the American flag when misguided individual's burn it or urinate on it or subject it to other kinds of physical desecration," Parker said. "Many amendments over the last two centuries were adopted after campaigns longer - some a lot longer - than ours. Encouraged by the progress we have made, by the conviction in the rightness of our cause, and by the longstanding support of the American people, we will continue to persist - and expect to win."