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Assembly Urges Penalties for Flag Burning

June 27, 1989|DANIEL M. WEINTRAUB | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Reacting to a U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Assembly approved a resolution Monday calling for a constitutional amendment authorizing criminal penalties for the burning or desecration of the American flag.

The Assembly voted 58 to 2 for the resolution, authored by Republican Tim Leslie of Carmichael, who clutched a flag presented to his family at the funeral of his father, an Army officer who died in North Africa during World War II.

"My father died for this country," Leslie said. "He died for this flag. He died for the freedom and liberty that it represents."

Leslie's resolution--which will be sent to Congress as an advisory measure, if approved by the state Senate--prompted more than half an hour of debate on a day when the Assembly, with legislative deadlines looming, was considering more than 200 bills.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for President Bush said the President supports legislation to restore criminal penalties for flag-desecration, but hasn't decided whether to back a constitutional amendment.

"We haven't undertaken a kind of legal analysis that would yield some definitive action," said press secretary Marlin Fitzwater.

In an interview published in Tuesday's editions of the New York Times, Bush said: "I think I've sublimated some of the passion I feel, and I'm very open-minded as to what to do about it. And I've asked our attorney general (Dick Thornburgh) and chief of staff (John H. Sununu) to recommend what to do about it."

Assemblyman Terry Friedman (D-Los Angeles), one of the two members to vote against the California bill, said he was a "flag monitor" in school as a child and later was "sickened" when those who shared his opposition to the Vietnam War burned flags. But he said he supports the right to burn the flag, affirmed by the Supreme Court in its decision last week.

Friedman said the flag stands for "freedom of thought, the freedom of speech that we have in this country that very few people anywhere in the world are able to enjoy."

But Friedman and Assemblyman John Burton (D-San Francisco) were far outnumbered by lawmakers who rose to register what they described as "outrage" and "disgust" over the court's decision.

Assemblyman Eric Seastrand (R-Salinas) accused the resolution's opponents of using "mental gymnastics" to come up with arguments to protect the rights of flag-burners.

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