A constitutional amendment restoring to the states and Congress the authority to ban desecration of the American flag was sent Wednesday to the full House.
The House Judiciary Committee approved the amendment on a party-line vote of 18-12. It would override a 1989 Supreme Court ruling that threw out state laws prohibiting flag burning and other acts of desecration, saying they violated First Amendment guarantees of freedom of expression.
Democrats on the committee, who unanimously opposed the measure, echoed that concern.
“We’re going to the heart and soul of the right of the freedom of expression as protected in the Constitution,” said Rep. John Conyers, Jr., of Michigan, the committee’s ranking Democrat.
But Republicans said the flag, as the binding symbol of the nation, must be protected by law. “As tombstones are not for toppling, nor churches not for vandalizing, flags are not for burning,” said committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill.
The amendment is scheduled to reach the House floor in late June, becoming the third attempt by the Republican majority in this Congress to amend the Constitution. The balanced-budget amendment passed the House but fell one vote short in the Senate, while an amendment limiting the terms of members of Congress failed in the House.
It could be equally difficult in this case to get the two-thirds vote in both chambers needed to send a constitutional amendment to the states for ratification. Supporters say they have 70 Democratic co-sponsors in the House, providing the two-thirds margin if all Republicans support it.
But Democratic opposition to the measure appears to be hardening.
If it gets two-thirds votes in both chambers, it would need to be ratified by three-quarters of the states to be added to the Constitution.