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Flag Desecration Amendment and Cameras in Federal Courts


Contact: Ian Marquand, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Co-Chair, 406/542-4449 or

Flag Desecration Amendment Returns to House
Once again, Congress is considering an amendment to the Constitution which would authorize state and federal lawmakers to make desecrating the American flag a crime. A House joint resolution creating the amendment has passed committee and now is headed to the full House for debate.

Approval of such an amendment would be the first limitation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech in United States history. SPJ is opposed to H.J.4 and all other attempts to change the Constitution to reduce the protection of the First Amendment.

Technically, 34 of the 50 states must ratify the amendment within seven years. However, all 50 states already have passed resolutions supporting an amendment and calling on Congress to send them one, setting the stage for a very rapid--and possibly unanimous--ratification process.

Currently, 47 states have laws against flag desecration on their books. However, U.S. Supreme Court decisions have rendered those laws (as well as a 1989 federal flag-burning statute) unconstitutional. Only an amendment to the Constitution would trump the Supreme Court’s rulings.

In the past decade, proposed “flag-burning” amendments have passed the House but narrowly failed in the Senate. It’s believed that a vote in the Senate this year also would be very close.

The current resolution is known as H.J. 4 and was introduced by Rep. Randy Cunningham (R-CA) with 200 co-sponsors. (There also is a companion bill, S.J. 4, sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT.)

H.J. 4 cleared the House Judiciary Committee, 18-13 on May 21, four and a half months after its introduction.

The text of the proposed amendment is as follows:
“The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.”

One More Try to Put Cameras in Federal CourtsSen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) is again trying to open the doors of federal courts to cameras and other recording devices. Grassley’s newest attempt, S.554, has made a swift trip to the full Senate. The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 22 without amendment, less than three months after its introduction.

S. 554 would allow the presiding judge in any federal district and appellate court to “permit the photographing, electronic recording, broadcasting or televising to the public of court proceeding over which that judge presides.”

The bill also gives the national Judicial Conference the option of developing guidelines that judges can use to make decisions about allowing recording devices in their courtrooms.

SPJ supports S. 554 and Senator Grassley's long efforts to open the federal courts to electronic and visual journalism.

SPJ FOI Alert Vol. 8; No. 8

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