It is one of the curiosities of the nation's capital that those who profess the greatest reverence for the Constitution want to mess with it the most.
So it is that the Republican-dominated House this week passed by a flashy vote of 300-125 a proposed constitutional amendment: "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States."
If this amendment passed, it would desecrate something else: the First Amendment to the Constitution's clause on freedom of speech.
"Desecration" is a spongy term that exists largely in the mind of the beholder. To some, the commercial purposes to which the flag is put is a form of desecration. But that's not what the amendment's backers have in mind. They want to outlaw flag burning, a form of political protest and dissent that many people find offensive.
What next? Laws to keep Uncle Sam from burning in effigy? The Founders gave us the First Amendment especially to protect unpopular, unwelcome political speech from the wrath of the majority.
As a practical issue, flag amendment backers cannot point to a contemporary instance where flag desecration is a problem; as the kids would say, it is so 1960s. Their other arguments are wholly speculative.
Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, said if we allow the flag's defacement, "we allow our country's gradual decline." The Supreme Court overturned flag desecration laws in 1989. America's emergence as an unrivaled hyperpower in the 14 years since is hardly "decline."
And House Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, says legislation is needed to make "a very strong statement about what our flag means to us." The American people don't need Congress to tell them what the flag means to them, and since Betsy Ross sewed the first one, the flag has been fully capable of looking after its own meaning.
This is the fifth time in eight years the House has passed a flag desecration amendment. Each time it has either died or been defeated in the Senate, and the Senate should once again stop the House from chiseling away at one amendment to carve out another.