By Tim Cushing
Perhaps Tennessee State Representative Jay Reedy read the electoral room wrong on November 5 and thought his boy would remain president for another four years. Maybe he was just drunk on the success of securing his state rep position in the general election after a strenuous unopposed campaign. Whatever the case, Rep. Reedy is apparently hoping Congressional reps will return to Capitol Hill refreshed and ready to violate the Constitution.
The first shot of Rep. Reedy’s new term is this: a resolution urging Congress to make flag burning illegal. This is something Trump threatened to do a handful of times during campaign rallies. This is also something pretty much no one seriously thinks would have a chance of standing up to Constitutional scrutiny. Nevertheless, this resolution exists. And the best part of the resolution is it explains exactly how it will fail even as it calls for Congress to make it happen. (h/t Peter Bonilla)
WHEREAS, a 1931 case set the first precedent for the use of a flag in an act of symbolic speech under the First Amendment, when the Court struck down a California law that banned the flying of a red flag to protest against the government; and
WHEREAS, in 1968, Congress approved the Federal Flag Desecration Law after a Vietnam War protest. The law made it illegal to “knowingly” cast “contempt” upon “any flag of the United States by publicly mutilating, defacing, defiling, burning or trampling upon it.”; and
WHEREAS, the Court moved toward its 1989 decision about flag burning in 1974, when it said in Spence v. Washington that a person couldn’t be convicted for using tape to put a peace sign on an American flag. A majority of the Court saw the act as protected expression under the First Amendment; and
WHEREAS, during the next decade, states narrowed the focus on their flag desecration laws, but they still prohibited flag burning and other acts of mutilation. The issue was then decided, at least in the Supreme Court, in the decision of Texas v. Johnson…
We’ll stop there for the moment because there’s already so much to work with. This breaks down the history of flag desecration laws being struck down as unconstitutional. Somehow, this is Reedy’s pitch for a federal flag desecration law. And it takes someone really special to claim that an issue may still be unsettled (“decided, at least in the Supreme Court”), when it has been already been addressed by the US Supreme Court.
WHEREAS, in reaction to the Johnson decision, which only applied to the state of Texas, Congress passed an anti-flag burning law called the Flag Protection Act of 1989. However in 1990, the Supreme Court struck down that law as unconstitutional.
All of that notwithstanding (somehow), Reedy believes Congress can exercise its federal superpowers to craft a law that bans flag burning while still remaining aligned with the First Amendment.
BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE ONE HUNDRED TWELFTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE, THE SENATE CONCURRING, that we strongly urge the United States Congress to enact legislation to prohibit the desecration of the United States flag.
Chances are this resolution will never make its way to Congress, no matter how much the Tennessee state legislature leans right. And this is just more jingoistic patriotism masquerading as public service from a state rep who has introduced a bunch of other dead-in-the-legislative-water timewasters over the past few years, including:
A bid to add a section detailing the history, economic impact, and cultural uses of the Bible to the state’s official government manual. An internet porn filter proposal that would have required of-age Americans to affirmatively opt in to access pornography — one that asked the US Congress to enact internet filtering legislation and the DOJ to “vigorously enforce” federal obscenity laws. An amendment to the state Constitution declaring the listed rights came from “Almighty God.” A resolution to designate the Bible as the official state book. A bill allowing law enforcement to search any vehicle parked in a jail parking lot. And… in this session, during a pandemic, an anti-vax bill.
Constitutionality is not Rep. Reed’s strong suit. I guess the rights given to state residents (and Americans located elsewhere) by the Almighty God should be subject to Reed’s personal beliefs about where those rights begin and end.