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Finally, an answer to a question that has long puzzled me. When I wrote my flag burning commentary, I wondered how frequent flag burning actually was. I knew that it was extremely rare, but I couldn't find any numbers anywhere. But the ACLU has provided the answer:

Only 200 incidents of flag burning have been reported in the entire history of the United States. A person is more likely to be struck by lightning or win the lottery than to be exposed to a political flag burning. The proposed constitutional amendment is, therefore, the very definition of a solution in search of a problem.

The sad thing is that I got this information because a flag-burning amendment has once again been introduced in Congress. I like to think of this amendment as the Freddy Krueger Act -- it's evil, and it just won't stay dead.

Given the rarity of flag burning, I don't understand what supporters of this amendment hope to gain. In fact, the rarity of flag burning is actually used as an argument for prohibiting it. The amendments don't contain all the Whereas'es that most bills have to explain the reasoning behind them, but I did manage to find this one opinion column written by amendment sponsor Diane Feinstein (the proprietor of the site claims it's the only explanation he's been able to get from Congressional supporters of the amendment). She says essentially that since it doesn't happen very often, it's no big deal if we ban it. Yet if it's no big deal, why go through all the trouble of passing a Constitutional amendment (which is a lot harder than passing a regular law)? Feinstein says that the flag is a very special and important symbol. I agree. That's what makes it so meaningful when a person chooses to demonstrate respect for the flag. Feinstein seems to think that the importance of the symbol is enough to justify banning its desecration, but she neglects to describe what possible harm is done by burning a flag, and what good is done by patriotism that is feigned out of fear of punishment. As conservatives like to say, you don't have a right not to be offended.


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