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Monday, December 12, 2005

Hillary Clinton Opposes the First Amendment

This is old news, but Hillary Clinton has decided to support the Flag Burning Amendment. It appears she misunderstands the First Amendment.

From the Winston-Salem News:

Monday, December 12, 2005
Stars, Stripes and Clinton

Winston-Salem Journal

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton has never been as liberal as the political right likes to portray her. She voted to authorize the war in Iraq, remember, and remains a hawk on the issue to this day. She's won occasional praise in the Senate for working with Republicans to find middle ground with her more liberal colleagues.

Nonetheless, Clinton's co-sponsorship of a bill that would make it criminal to burn the American flag appears to be nothing short of pandering to the right. The bill demonstrates Clinton's willingness to trade away a piece of the right to free speech to better position herself for her 2008 run for the White House.

No one in this country supports flag burning. Old Glory is a beautiful symbol of American patriotism. But a greater indicator of American freedom is the right that we all hold to express our personal, political positions. If Congress were to outlaw the burning of the flag, it would take from American citizens one small piece of their rights to free expression.

Clinton's sponsorship of the legislation is particularly galling considering that flag burning is pretty much out of style as a form of protest. During the Vietnam War, protestors made a grievous error by burning flags and thereby presenting themselves as anti-American. A more likely scenario by protestors upset with government policy today - for example, Cindy Sheehan of the anti-Iraq-war movement - is to wrap oneself in the flag.

What will happen next, when Clinton and her allies on the political right find that a ban on burning the flag doesn't keep a new generation of war protestors from using the flag? Will they then propose a law banning people from wrapping themselves in the flag? While such an idea might have some merit for cheap politicians who pre-empt our national symbol for their own personal advancement, it is clearly not a workable solution.

Clinton's proposal is politically gratuitous, in one way, and especially dangerous in another. In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that flag burning is constitutionally protected free speech. So, lower courts would almost assuredly delay its enforcement and the Clinton bill would appear to be an exercise in futility.

With the high court moving further to the right with President Bush's appointments, a new anti-flag burning law might eventually be upheld. And with such a ruling, thanks to the New York senator, a piece of American liberty would disappear.

I have always thought the people who support Flag Burning amendments trivialize the what the American Flag stands for. Libertarian conservatives oppose the Flag Burning amendment. The Cato Institute testified against the flag burning amendment in 1997. The Cato Institute explains here why Flag Burning Amendments are dumb ideas. I'd disagree that the Supreme Court would find Hillary's law constitutional. The much reviled Clarence Thomas is a strong libertarian and understands the first amendment.

The St Petersburg Times finds this pathetic:

Hillary's pathetic ploy
A Times Editorial
Published December 12, 2005

Sen. Hillary Clinton's decision to co-sponsor a bill to make it a crime to burn the American flag amounts to political pandering of the worst kind. She was against outlawing flag-burning before she was for it.

The New York Democrat says she opposes a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning but has signed on to a bill that would ostensibly accomplish the same thing by federal statute. Her position is unprincipled. Clinton may think this is a middle-ground position with broad political appeal, but most people will see it for what it is.

Voters who approve of making flag-burning a crime are seeking a constitutional amendment, not a statute that is likely to be struck down by the federal courts as unconstitutional. And those voters who understand that this country's cherished freedom of speech is undermined by limits on offensive messages, including flag-burning, don't want any legal proscriptions. There is no middle ground.

The measure she has co-sponsored along with Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, is the Flag Protection Act of 2005. One provision would make it a crime punishable by up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine, to burn an American flag of "any size" if a person knows that it is "likely to produce imminent violence or a breach of the peace."

The crime is not the act of burning the flag (since old and tattered flags are burned regularly by veteran groups) but to burn a flag in criticism of the American government when someone is nearby who cannot control his impulses. This gives remarkable power to those in our society who resort to violence in response to disturbing speech and messages.

The Democratic Party doesn't need another candidate who lacks the backbone to take a clear, principled stand, and it certainly doesn't need a candidate who doesn't believe in the First Amendment.

Hillary deserves this derision.