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"If a jerk burns a flag, America is not threatened. If a
jerk burns a flag, democracy is not under siege. If a
jerk burns a flag, freedom is not at risk and we are
not threatened. My colleagues, we are offended; and
to change our Constitution because someone offends
us is, in itself, unconscionable,"
-- Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-New York).
The following chronology (except for the most recent entries) is copied from one prepared by the Emergency Committee to Stop the Flag Amendment and Laws (originally the Emergency Committee on the Supreme Court Flagburning Case) in 1990 during the last previous round of Congressional debate on the Flag Protection Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
February 1989 -- Dread Scott's "What Is the Proper Way to Display the U.S. Flag?" goes on exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago.
March 1989 -- Legislation is introduced in Congress to prohibit willfully displaying the U.S. flag on the floor or ground.
June 1989 -- Supreme Court decision in Texas v. Johnson upholds the First Amendment right to burn the flag as symbolic political speech.
June - July 1989 -- President Bush announces his support for a Constitutional amendment to prohibit flag "desecration". Democrats propose legislation to try to prohibit flagburning without amending the Constitution.
Summer 1989 -- Congress debates how to criminalize flagburning: by statute or by Constitutional amendment?
September-October 1989 -- "Flag Protection Act of 1989" is approved by both houses of Congress. "Flag Protection Amendment" is voted down in the Senate. Bush allows the Flag Protection Act to become law without his signature. Bush withholds his signature to show his continuing preference for a Constitutional amendment.
October 28, 1989 -- The Flag Protection Act takes effect.
October 28, 1989 -- 500 people in Seattle defy the law at the stroke of midnight. A Vietnam veterans' group and others "desecrate" every flag in sight, including a Post Office flag raised in flames. 200 demonstrate in New York City in an "Exorcism of Forced Patriotism".
October 30, 1989 -- Four people burn flags on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in defiance of the new law. Three are charged with flag desecration: Shawn Eichman, Dave Blalock, and Dread Scott. Joey Johnson burns a flag but is not charged, in a move to separate him (as a symbol of the Supreme Court precedent in his case) from the government's attempt to reverse that precedent.
October-December 1989 -- Widespread protest and defiance of the new law, including rallies, flagburnings, and flag art shows on the campuses of Princeton U., U.C. Berkeley, U. of Washington, Hiram C. (OH), Wesleyan U. (CT), Evergreen State C. (WA), U. of Penn., etc. No flag desecration charges result from any of these actions.
December 1989 -- Seven people from the Seattle protest are charged with flag desecration and destruction of government property (the Post Office flag). Four are later arrested: Jennifer Campbell, Mark Haggerty, Carlos Garza, and Colin Stone. Three John Does identified only by surveillance photos remain free.
December 1989 - January 1990 -- Motions to dismiss the flag desecration charges in Seattle and DC as unconstitutional are filed by attorneys led by William Kunstler and David Cole of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
In response, the Justice Department admits that the 1989 law is unconstitutional under Texas v. Johnson but argues that the Supreme Court should reverse itself, echoing Bush's call for a Constitutional amendment if the law is struck down. In an extraordinary action, both the Senate and the House leadership file amicus briefs for the prosecution. They argue that the new law is "unrelated to the suppression of expression" and that the government's interest in "protecting" the flag as a symbol of the "sovereignty of the nation" overrides First Amendment rights.
December 1989 - March 1990 -- The U.S. Attorney in San Francisco considers prosecuting several Bay Area flagburners. Spokesmen for the FBI and the U.S. Atty. say they are investigating:
(1) Vietnam veteran Jim Byrd for burning a flag in the Sonoma town square 12/15/89 to protest the U.S. government's role in Central America
(2) a San Francisco middle school teacher for burning a flag in his classroom at the start of each of his 5 classes 1/2/90 in a discussion of the U.S. invasion of Panama (FBI agents interrogate 120 students at the school 2/2/90 for evidence against the teacher) and
(3) flagburnings during a blockade of the San Francisco Federal Building 1/23/90 (subpoenas are issued 2/9/90 to a freelance photographer and to the SFPD Office of Citizens' Complaints for any videotapes or photographs of flagburnings at the demonstration).
February - March 1990 -- The flag desecration charges are dismissed by Federal District Court Judges 2/23/90 in Seattle and 3/5/90 in DC on the grounds that the Flag Protection Act is unconstitutional. The Justice Department immediately files notices that it will appeal to the Supreme Court. President Bush and members of the Senate and House reiterate their support for the Constitutional amendment.
February 28, 1990 -- The Emergency Committee to Stop the Flag Amendment and Laws kicks off a new national campaign against the proposed Flag Protection Amendment with a demonstration during Bush's next public appearance, a fundraiser in San Francisco. 2,000 people burn Bush in effigy, seated on a flag-draped throne and wrapped in U.S. flags, while larger, burning flags wave above. They spread a 30' by 20' U.S. flag in the street, dance on it, then burn it below a banner saying, "Stop the Fascist Flag Law" while speakers from the Emergency Committee denounce the flag law and amendment.
Spring 1990 -- Under special provisions of the Flag Protection Act, the Supreme Court is required to hear the appeals directly from the district courts on an expedited basis.
June 11, 1990 -- The Supreme Court in U.S. v. Haggerty and U.S. v. Eichman upholds the district court rulings that the Flag Protection Act is unconstitutional. The U.S. Attorney in San Francisco announces that 5 pending cases against Bay Area flag burners have been dropped. Debate on proposals for a Flag Protection Amendment is renewed in both houses of Congress.
June 21-26, 1990 -- The proposed Flag Protection Amendment is approved by 58% majorities of both houses of Congress, but falls short of the 2/3 approval required to amend the Constitution. Members promise to reintroduce the proposal for the amendment after new members of Congress are elected and/or new Justices are appointed to the Supreme Court.
July 1990 -- The charges that the Seattle defendants destroyed government property, unaffected by the Supreme Court decision on the flag law, are returned to the district court in Seattle for trial.
August 1990 -- "Beat up a flagburner" bills to encourage vigilantism by reducing the penalty for assault to a $5 fine if the victim is burning a flag are introduced in several state legislatures.
1995 -- The Flag Protection Amendment is re-introduced in both houses of Congress. The House of Representatives approves it by more than the necessary 2/3 vote.
Fall 1995 -- The Senate will vote on the Flag Protection Amendment. If 2/3 or more of the Senate approve the proposal, the amendment will be submitted to the state legislatures for ratification. (No action by the President will be required, nor will a Presidential veto be possible) Ratification would require the approval of three-fourths of the state legislatures (38 of the 50 states). If the Amendment is ratified, it will become part of the Constitution, "the supreme law of the land"; as a more recent amendment, it will take precedence over the First Amendment in case of any contradiction between them.
(These last entries were prepared by Warren)
December 12, 1995 -- The Senate narrowly rejects the amendment, by a vote of 63-36.
March 16, 1996 -- Dread Scott's What is the Proper Way to Display the U.S. Flag? goes on display at the Phoenix Art Museum, as a part of an exhibit entitled "Old Glory: The American Flag in Contemporary Art." Protestors from the American Legion picket the gallery, removing the flag from the floor and folding it several times.
March 27, 1996 -- Arizona State Representative Scott Bundgaard (R-Glendale) asks the Phoenix City Prosecutor to have the Museum Director arrested for violating the state's laws against flag desecration. He is informed that such laws are unconstitutional, and will not be enforced.
March 1996 -- Phoenix City Councilwoman Frances Barwood suggests that the city sell the museum, although the exhibit was funded exclusively through private donations.
April 1996 -- Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA) calls on the Phoenix Art Museum to close the exhibit, saying that "it's wrong." He declines an invitation by museum director Jim Ballinger to visit the exhibit and see the artwork before passing judgement, saying "I don't have to look at a U.S. flag in the toilet to know that it's wrong."
June 16, 1996 -- The exhibit closes, as planned, on the scheduled date. To date, no arrests have been made.
February 14, 1997 -- Rep Gerald Solomon (R-NY) introduces the exact same amendment to the 105th Congress, with 201 co-sponsors. The bill was passed in June 1998 by a vote of 310 to 114.
February 4, 1998 -- Rep Orrin Hatch (R-Utah,) along with nearly 60 co-sponsors, introduce the measure in the Senate.
October 8, 1998 -- The vote in the Senate is blocked, so no vote occurs before elections are held. The Senate recesses for elections, and reconvenes briefly for the presidential impeachment trial.
January 1999 -- The new Senate is sworn in, killing the previous bill. Represenatives and Senators plan to reintroduce the flag amendment once more. Remember, this does not need the President's signature, nor can the President veto the bill. Once it passes, it's permanently part of the "New Constitution."
April 30, 1999 -- Senate Judiciary Committee approves constitutional
amendment to ban flag burning, paving the way for a Senate vote.
June 24, 1999 -- House passes Constitutional amendment outlawing flag desecration, by a margin of 305-124, the third consecutive session of Congress to pass this. (No matter how hard I try, they just don't seem to stop!)
The information up to1995 was submitted to The Flag Burning Page by Edward Hasbrouck, whom I would like to thank very much. Mr. Hasbrouck also keeps me informed when new action occurs, and helps clarify legal issues when I don't exactly understand them.Warren S. Apel