Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
Sen. Bob Bennett, shown in 2004, still opposes a flag-desecration amendment.<BR>

WASHINGTON — Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, has received his fair share of criticism for his opposition to a constitutional amendment to ban desecration of the American flag, an amendment sponsored in the Senate by Utah's other Republican senator, Orrin Hatch.

And through it all, Bennett has tried to make it crystal clear that he does not support flag burning. Rather, he just supports the constitutional rights of expression symbolized by flag.

"I wish to make it clear to my constituents and to others who have concern about this problem, that my objection to a constitutional amendment should not be construed as demonstrating indifference to the issue of reverence for the flag," he said Friday from the Senate floor.

And to demonstrate that commitment, Bennett on Friday introduced the Flag Protection Act, which criminalizes desecration or damage of the United States flag when a person does the damage with the primary purpose and intent to promote violence or breach the peace, when a person damages a flag belonging to the United States and when a person damages a flag belonging to another person.

All three provisions would pass constitutional muster, he said.

Bennett said he remains opposed to a constitutional amendment on flag desecration in part because he believes there just aren't enough cases to warrant tinkering with the Constitution.

"Flag desecration hit its peak during the Vietnam years, but it has virtually disappeared now and occurs, ironically, only when debate about the amendment to the Constitution becomes a subject of public discourse," Bennett said. "We seem to stimulate flag desecration when we have the debate on amending the Constitution to prevent it."

Bennett, with co-sponsor Kent Conrad, D-N.D., has introduced the legislation before, but it has never come to a vote.

Bennett quoted at length from editorials in the Deseret Morning News and the Salt Lake Tribune to make his point that the "Constitution is no place for feel-good amendments that do nothing but restrict freedoms.

"When my Senate career is over, I don't want the most important constitutional vote that I have cast to be one that weakens the First Amendment," he said.