WASHINGTON — Fired up by politics and patriotism, conservative critics of the Supreme Court decision allowing burning of the American flag as protected free speech kept the House open all night and into this morning to speak out against the ruling.
More than a dozen members told Rep. Duncan L. Hunter (R-Coronado) late Wednesday that they were prepared to join him in the overnight marathon to protest last week's 5-4 decision.
The speeches began at 10:55 p.m. Wednesday after the House completed usual business for the day and lasted until 8:55 a.m. today with the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Weary stenographers and other floor staffers quickly fled to catch a quick nap before the House took up a foreign-aid bill at 11 a.m.
Many members 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 K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) 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 that 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.
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 desecraters 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."
"Anybody that burns that flag around me better have their fighting clothes on," Rep. Charles Wilson (D-Tex.) told the House. "The flag represents everything we believe in.