HOUSE REPUBLICAN LEADER DEFENDS FLAG AMENDMENT PROPOSAL

House Republican leader Robert Michel strongly defends as appropriate his proposed amendment to the US Constitution that would empower lawmakers to make the ``physical desecration'' of the US flag illegal. President Bush has strongly endorsed the proposal that Mr. Michel and veteran House Democrat G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery of Mississippi have sponsored. The concept of making desecration of the flag illegal has enormous bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, following the recent US Supreme Court ruling that overturned the conviction of a man in Texas for burning the flag. The court majority held that the law used to convict the defendant infringed on First Amendment guarantees of free speech.

Michel says he does not ``take lightly any attempt to amend the Constitution.'' But constitutional scholars have told him that the only way to protect the flag from desecration is through constitutional amendment.

The proposal raises difficult questions:

Exactly what constitutes ``desecration?'' Michel, noting that he is not a lawyer, says that he is not yet prepared to be specific.

Isn't the flag issue politicized? ``Not for me,'' Michel responds. ``When you get to amending the Constitution, you don't trivialize it. Or politicize it.''

Won't any change in the first amendment automatically limit what now is constitutionally protected freedom of speech? Michel says no. He notes his proposal has ``very limited language.'' The proposed amendment reads: ``The Congress and the states shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.''

Further, he adds, the procedure for amending the US Constitution intentionally ``is a cumbersome process.''

In addition to receiving approval by a two-thirds vote in Congress, and being signed by the president, two-thirds of all state legislatures would have to pass the proposed amendment.

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