Proposed Law Would Criminalize Some Flag Burning Cases

Proposed Law Would Criminalize Some Flag Burning Cases

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, a longtime opponent of amending the Constitution to ban flag burning, has introduced a bill that would criminalize certain cases of flag desecration.

The Flag Protection Act, introduced on Friday, would make it a crime to damage someone else's flag -- including those owned by the federal government -- or in a way that promotes violence. The Republican senator said he wanted to make it clear that he doesn't support flag burning, but he does support the constitutional rights of expression symbolized by the United States flag.

"My objection to a constitutional amendment should not be construed as demonstrating indifference to the issue of reverence for the flag," he said Friday.

Bennett said he remains opposed to an amendment on flag desecration in part because it doesn't happen enough to warrant changing the Constitution.

"Flag desecration hit its peak during the Vietnam years, but it has virtually disappeared now and occurs, ironically, only when debate about the amendment to the Constitution becomes a subject of public discourse," Bennett said. "We seem to stimulate flag desecration when we have the debate on amending the Constitution to prevent it."

Bennett, with co-sponsor Kent Conrad, D-N.D., has introduced the legislation before, but it has never come to a vote.

"When my Senate career is over, I don't want the most important constitutional vote that I have cast to be one that weakens the First Amendment," he said.

Late last month, Utah representatives split along party lines as the U.S. House voted in favor of a constitutional amendment prohibiting flag burning.

Republican Reps. Chris Cannon and Rob Bishop voted in favor of the amendment Wednesday, while Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson voted against it.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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