The notion of writing a restriction on freedom of expression into the text of the Constitution ought to offend every patriot. To pledge allegiance to the Flag instead of “the Republic for which it stands” is the political equivalent of the sin of idolatry: confusing a symbol with its referent, to the extreme of elevating the symbol above the referent.
The Bill of Rights is as central to that Republic as anything could be: surely more central than the Flag. So to deface the Bill of Rights in order to defend the Flag is political idolatry at its worst.
That said, it’s not obvious to me that the Supreme Court decisions extending First Amendment protection to Flag-burning were necessarily right. And I have considerable sympathy for those who recall the flag draped over a parent’s or spouse’s or sibling’s or child’s military coffin and who react badly to reports of its being burned or otherwise deliberately desecrated. So if it were in fact possible to pass a Constitutionally valid statute forbidding certain disrespectful acts directed at the Flag, I would find such a law inoffensive.
Your mileage may vary, of course. But is it really worth while giving offense to a large portion of the electorate over such a trivial issue? After all, it’s not as if there’s some idea out there whose expression an anti-Flag-burning law would make impossible.
So, despite my strong desire that Hillary Clinton not be the Democratic nominee for President in 2008, I can’t join Arianna Huffington in criticizing Clinton for offering a statute in lieu of the Republican Constitutional amendment. Voting for the statute gave Senate Democrats a way to vote against Flag-burning without voting to draw a moustache on James Madison’s supreme work of art.
I’m even willing to give a pass to those swing-state Democrats who voted for the Amendment itself. I admire the courage and taste of those who voted the other way, and I’m especially grateful to Sen. Bennett of Utah for parting company with his party and providing the decisive vote that denied the proposed amendment the 2/3 vote it needed to move on. But if holding a Democratic Senate seat from Florida or Nebraska or West Virginia or Colorado or Nevada requires voting for the Republicans’ repugnant gesture, that seems to me a price well worth paying.
Of course, that doesn’t excuse those who brought the issue to the floor, for crassly political purposes, or chickenhawks like George Allen who used to to question the integrity of their political opponents.
Footnote The predominant form of religious idolatry in the United States is Bible-worship. Too bad so many of our religious fanatics prefer building monuments to the Ten Commandments to understanding them or obeying them.