Senate leaders in both parties said Sunday there is no need for a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning, which the Senate plans to debate this week.
Protecting the First Amendment's right to free speech takes precedent, agreed Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., each their party's second-ranking Senate leader. Both said they would oppose the flag-burning amendment.
"I think the First Amendment has served us well for over 200 years. I don't think it needs to be altered," McConnell said on ABC's "This Week."
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-7 this month to send the constitutional amendment to the full Senate for consideration. Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has said the measure will get a Senate vote this month. That vote is expected in the week before the Fourth of July.
The amendment, which would protect the American flag from desecration, has been rejected before, but its chance of passing is improved this year.
"It is within one vote of passage. And I think that's unfortunate," Durbin said. "There are scarcely any instances across America where people are burning the flag. And yet, now we want to set aside the important business of the Senate, health care and energy policy and education and debate for an entire week this concept of amending our Bill of Rights."
The House a year ago passed the bill 286-130, more than the required two-thirds of those present to pass.
The amendment reads: "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States."
To become the Constitution's 28th amendment, the language must be approved by two-thirds of those present in each chamber (67 votes in the Senate), then ratified within seven years by at least 38 state legislatures.