The Flag Protection Act was passed by Congress in 1989, after the Supreme Court's Texas v. Johnson ruling. This case decided that burning the American flag as a form of protest was protected by the First Amendment, which contains the right to free speech. Some supporters of the flag, but oppenents of the FPA voiced their concern that the Court would strike down and flag protection law under the pronciples established by the Johnson case. Instead, they wanted to authorize Congress and the states to be more severe and powerful with flag-burners. They wanted burners and other desecrators to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Supporters of the FPA arugued that only an amendment to the Constitution would be powerful enough to handle these expectations (Goldstein 178-87).The hype for protecting the flag was ignited around the nation as a result of the Johnson ruling, and soon after the decision, an amendment to protect the flag was presented before Congress. It was voted down, but the subsequent Flag Protection Act was passed. This act was made into law without President George H. Bush's signature, because the president was ferverent in his feeling for protecting the flag, and was a strong supporter of passing a constitutional amendment. He was displeased that the amendment bill did not pass, so did not sign the bill for the FPA. The FPA was not new legislation, but an amendment of an existing U.S. code (www.esquilax.com).
The FPA took effect on October 30, 1989, protestors around the nation burned flags in protest. Many citizens saw this legislation as goverment suppression of free speech, a civil liberty guaranteed to all Americans by the Bill of Rights. Shawn Eichman, of the later U.S. v. Eichman case, was among those Americans protesting the new legislation. He was arrested for violating the flag protection law, and eventually appealed to the Supreme Court (www.esquilax.com).
In June of 1990, the Eichman ruling declared the FPA unconstitutional for supressing free speech. The legislation is actually still part of U.S. code, but it cannot take force without a flag protection amendment being passed (Goldstein, 188-191).
The FPA's sentiment resurrected in 1995, when Congress was presented with a bill to make a flag burning amendment to the Constitution. The bill passed in the House, but the Senate voted the bill down with only three votes short of a majority: 63-36. (372-3).With the recent terroritst attacks and consequent surge of patriotism in America, it may be of little wonder that a flag protection bill will again pass before Congress. Especially now since our nation's safety was threatened, protecting the flag may be more close-to-home than many people realize. However, this issue will always be hotly debated by politicians, judges, and citizens alike, for the flag means so much to so many that it is difficult to pass a supreme law that defines the flag in absolute certainty.
The FPA again was passed before the House in 2001. No new legislation or precedents have been established, however. For more information about the FPA in 2001, visit FPA in 2001