Did you know that the proper method of destroying or "retiring" a
flag that is worn out or soiled is to burn it? Boy Scouts and American
Legion groups regularly perform such ceremonies. However, ordinary
citizens who have burned flags for other reasons, such as political
protest, have often been subject to arrest in this country. This is
because many states, including Texas, have had laws making it a crime to
burn or desecrate the flag. In 1984, Gregory Lee Johnson was arrested
for burning a flag during a protest outside the Republican National
Convention in Texas. His case eventually went to the Supreme Court of
the United States. In the 5 to 4 ruling the Court explained that what
Johnson did is a form of speech that is protected by the First
In response to 1984 Supreme Court decision, flag supporters have
tried to pass a constitutional amendment to protect the flag or prohibit
flag burning. A proposed constitutional amendment needs a two-thirds
majority in both houses of Congress and be approved by three-fourths of
the state legislatures. Since the Supreme Court ruling, the House has
approved flag amendments in 1995, 1997, 1999 and 2001, and 2005, all
with the necessary 2/3 majority. The Senate, in votes in 1995 and 2000,
came up with only 63 votes, four short of the two-thirds majority
needed. In 2006, the Senate was only one vote short of the 67 needed.
The debate continues. In November 2016, then-President-Elect Donald
Trump tweeted, “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if
they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or
year in jail!” Imagine that you are a recently elected U.S. Senator, and
this amendment has been submitted to the Senate again. You will be
asked to vote on this issue, which is very important to many of your
constituents. Before voting, you must learn about the arguments on both
sides and make an informed decision. Then you will vote on this issue:
Should the United States enact a constitutional amendment to prohibit
Background for Everyone
Read the CNN article, High court rulings led to quest for flag-burning amendment.
Your teacher will assign you one of the base groups listed below. You
and the other members of your group will read at least two of the
articles that have been assigned to your base group.
- Citizens Flag Alliance (CFA), an organization founded by the American Legion and other like-minded groups
- Veterans groups and Politicians for the Amendment
- Civil Liberties Organizations (American Civil Liberties Union/ACLU and the First Amendment Center)
- Individual veterans and Politicians against the Amendment
When all members of the group have finished reading, work together
to complete Student Handout #1. Fill in the information regarding the
position of your base group.
Students will form jigsaw groups so they are working with one person
from each of the other base groups. Each person in the jigsaw group will
share his or her findings from the initial reading. All members of the
jigsaw group will listen and use this new information to complete
Student Handout #2.
The jigsaw group will identify the strongest arguments for and against the amendment to prohibit flag burning and discuss them.
Each individual will reflect on the arguments and make a decision
regarding whether he or she is for or against the amendment to prohibit
The U.S. Senate, which is composed of all members of the class, will
convene and debate the issue. Then they will vote to see if the
Real World Feedback
Since it is possible that the U.S. Senate will be voting on this in
the future, write a letter to your Senator expressing your viewpoint on
the question, "Should the United States enact a constitutional amendment
to prohibit flag burning?" In your letter, be sure to state your
position clearly and provide arguments that support your position.
Should the U.S. Constitution be changed if the majority of people believe it should be? Why or why not?
What is the likelihood that an amendment will be passed in the future?
Is writing a letter an effective way to influence the process? What
are some other ways that citizens can be involved in the amendment