By a vote of 380 to 38, the House passed a bill (HR 2978) setting criminal penalties for "whoever knowingly mutilates, defaces, burns or tramples upon any flag of the United States. . . ." The bill outlaws physical abuse of the American flag but not political condemnation of it. It applies to the actual flag, not to representations of the national symbol.
The measure, which was sent to the Senate, is a response to the U. S. Supreme Court ruling last June that desecration of the flag is a form of dissent protected by the Constitution. Both the House and Senate also plan to vote this year on whether to protect the integrity of the flag by constitutional amendment instead of statute.
Supporter Mike Synar (D-Okla.), said he supported the statute approach because "the vast majority of Americans always will respect the flag and do not need a constitutional amendment to teach them that respect."
Opponent James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said: "It is far better to undertake a procedure we are confident will cure the problem, a constitutional amendment."