Congressional critics of the Supreme Court decision allowing burning of the American flag as protected free speech kept the House open all night and into Thursday morning to speak out against the ruling.
More than a dozen members told Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., late Wednesday they were prepared to join him in the overnight marathon to protest the 5-4 decision last week.They talked until 8:42 a.m., adjourning until 11 a.m. for regular business. Weary stenographers and other floor staffers quickly fled to catch a quick nap before the House took up a foreign aid bill.
Many called for amending the Constitution to strike down the decision that flag burning is protected by the First Amendment guarantee of free speech.
Rep. Robert Dornan, R-Calif., told the House that the government gives more protection to U.S. currency by making its destruction illegal.
"We can't rip up our own money," Dornan said. "It is protected. But beautiful Old Glory is not."
President Bush said Tuesday he will soon send a constitutional amendment to Congress to bar desecration of the U.S. flag, and several have already been introduced in the House and Senate.
White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater told reporters Wednesday that administration officials were consulting with key Republicans to draft the amendment. The administration expects to develop "consensus language in the next day or two," Fitzwater said.
Rep. Don Ritter, R-Pa., said the same protection for a dollar bill applies to U.S. mailboxes - their willful destruction is illegal, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $1,000 fine.
"Something is really out of kilter when a mailbox receives protection under the law, but our flag does not," Ritter said.
"To protect the American flag against desecration, must we stuff all of our flags in mailboxes so that desecrators of the flag would be prohibited or at least deterred from the act of desecration?
"A constitutional change is in order. President Bush is right."
At a news conference Tuesday, Bush announced he would seek to reverse the Supreme Court's controversial 5-4 decision last week that burning the flag as a political protest is protected by the First Amendment's free speech guarantee.
Fitzwater said the proposed amendment would "probably be short," running only one or two sentences, and would be introduced by Senate Republican leader Robert Dole of Kansas and House GOP leader Bob Michel of Illinois "with our endorsement."
"Anybody that burns that flag around me better have their fighting clothes on," Rep. Charles Wilson, D-Texas, told the House. "The flag represents everything we believe in, freedom of religion, the right to trial by jury."
House Republican leader Robert Michel of Illinois said the court decision has served to awaken people to the symbolic meaning of the American flag.
"If we take it for granted, it gradually over time moves away from the forefront," Michel said. "Maybe now again we have begun to think about it, instead of just praise it. Maybe we can recapture the meaning of that unique symbol."
The speeches came after the close of the day's legislative business.