The Wisconsin Assembly Criminal Justice Committee approved legislation Wednesday prohibiting the burning of flags when they are used to incite violence and cause a breach of peace.
The bill, authored by Rep. Mark Pettis, R-Hertel, would disallow any flag burning when it appears that the act may cause violence.
“I am elated that the bill has taken the next step toward becoming law,” Pettis said. “Protecting the symbol of our nation is very important, and I look forward to making that case when the bill gets to the full assembly.”
This is the second time a law banning flag-burning has reached the floor of the Assembly. The first was passed in 1997 by an 81-17 vote. The Wisconsin Supreme Court declared the bill unconstitutionally broad.
The new bill is far more specific, including the incitement of violence clause.
The United States is familiar with flag-burning issues, and many amendments to the U.S. Constitution regarding the issues have been proposed over the years.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted last spring to amend the Constitution to prohibit flag-burning. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill this fall.
The right to burn the flag is viewed by many as a First Amendment right protected by the Constitution.
Pettis said the American flag is an important symbol, especially in the wake of last week’s attacks.
“Those who die in service to our country do not only wear a military uniform, they are policemen and firemen, doctors and nurses, rescue units and many innocent victims of tragedies like the one we have recently seen,” Pettis said.
“The flag is a symbol of the sacrifices they have made for their country and fellow man.”
The First Amendment has been used to protect people who have burned the flag before. Many times, people intend to show their contempt for government, but not their desire to halt the government. The American Civil Liberties Union has fought the amendment for many years, arguing that it denies Americans the right to show their disapproval of the government.
Other nations have also burned the flag to show their contempt for American policies. Recently, Islamic nations burned American flags to fight the American military buildup in the Indian Ocean.
In Madison, many students feel that the flag should be revered, but the right to free speech should not be stepped on.
“Our country was founded on the basis of free speech,” said UW sophomore Daisy Matthews. “It is wrong to say someone cannot have free speech because they are using symbolism.”
Other students feel the law is necessary to protect citizens, along with the flag.
“The right to express yourself is important, but the flag is an important symbol to our nation and should not be desecrated,” UW sophomore Tyler Shogren said.