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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.

[Last modified December 12, 2005, 01:10:15]


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