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Flag rules, Constitution, religion figure in Senate debate over 'Day of Tears' abortion resolution

The resolution passed Friday after a substantial debate, both for and against the proposal
Credit: Mike Myrick
The Idaho senate meets in its chamber at the state Capital in Nov. 17, 2021 file photo

BOISE, Idaho — This article originally appeared in Idaho Press.

A “Day of Tears” abortion resolution passed the Idaho Senate on Friday, but only after substantial debate both for and against, centering not only on abortion but on the Constitution, religion, and the rules for lowering the American flag to half-staff.

The resolution, SR 101, sponsored by Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene with 12 Senate GOP co-sponsors, recognizes “in perpetuity” Jan. 22, the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision, as the “Day of Tears in Idaho,” and encourages Idahoans to lower flags to half-staff on that date “to mourn the innocents who have lost their lives to abortion.”

A similar resolution was pending in the House, but wasn’t taken up on Friday.

Souza told the Senate, “Since that day, nearly 62 million babies have been aborted. That is more lives than the entire population of Canada. That is more lives than the population of California, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Nevada combined.” The flag-lowering, she said, is encouraged “so that families may find healing.”

Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, read from federal law and state law on when the American flag can be ordered flown at half-staff; it can occur only at the order of the president of the United States or the governor of a state, and it can occur only for specified limited time periods.

“It isn’t supposed to be used for anything that we want to make a political statement about. It is not constitutional,” she told the Senate. “It is not the privilege of a mayor or a legislature. It is the privilege of a United States president and a state governor only.”

She also cited the American Legion’s website about display of the American flag, which states, “Those individuals and agencies that usurp authority and display the flag at half-staff on inappropriate occasions are quickly eroding the honor and reverence accorded this solemn act.”

Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, quoted from the Bible and noted that various religions have differing views on when life begins, and that the United States was founded on freedom of religion, as recognized in the First Amendment. “We made a solemn pact with each other in the Constitution, and that pact was that we would not attempt to use the power of government when it came to the issue of religion,” he said. “And we therefore have the First Amendment, and the First Amendment says that the government shall not make an establishment of religion.”

“And in this resolution, we take the flag, and we attempt to harness the flag that is supposed to unite us and not divide us, the symbol of our unity, and we harness it to a political cause and a religious cause,” said Burgoyne, an attorney. “And not only may we not do that constitutionally, I think it’s an extremely unwise use of the flag.”

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, also an attorney, countered, “We routinely harness political issues and opinions to the flag, it happens every day that we’re in session. It happens every day that any legislative body in the United States is in session. It happens every time Congress meets. It’s normal behavior.” He also quoted from the Bible, criticized the Roe vs. Wade decision, and said he’d support the resolution.

Souza, in her closing debate, said, “Let me reiterate that this resolution encourages citizens to lower their flags to half-mast on Jan. 22 in remembrance every year. It is not mandatory. It is not dictated by any governmental body as a mandate.” The Senate then approved the resolution on a divided voice vote.

The Idaho House had Rep. Barbara Ehardt’s “Day of Tears” resolution on its calendar Friday, but when it came up, there were only 44 representatives present in the chamber, and 10 representatives were missing because the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee was meeting at the same time that the House convened, 8 a.m. This is common on Fridays early in the legislative session, when the House holds only a brief early-morning session and then adjourns to allow out-of-town representatives to catch early flights home for the weekend.

That prompted some conferring between Ehardt and legislative leaders, and checking of rules. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said no votes can be taken when the House is missing a committee.

So Ehardt settled instead for asking for a personal privilege during the time for announcements Friday, in which she decried the Roe vs. Wade decision and expressed hope that it will soon be overturned.

“A great wrong has been perpetrated on this country,” Ehardt told the House, “and that wrong is that 62 million babies have been lost, have been aborted.” Many states are bringing resolutions similar to hers, she said.

Since it was the time for announcements, when any lawmaker may make an announcement, Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, rose next. “Tomorrow is the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, when the women’s constitutional right to choose was enshrined in our Constitution,” Necochea told the House. “This made abortion care safer for people, and something to celebrate.”

With that, the House adjourned until Monday.

This article originally appeared in Idaho Press. Read more at IdahoPress.com 

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