While Americans are divided on many political issues, most people – especially those in our American Legion Family – hold a special reverence for the flag of our nation.
For the flag does not symbolize perfection but it does conjure images of the hopes and dreams of those who built this country. Whether it's the Apollo 11 crew planting Old Glory on the surface of the moon or New York firefighters raising the flag amidst the rubble of the World Trade Center, the Stars and Stripes make an emphatic statement about American determination and exceptionalism.
Ninety-five years ago, The American Legion chaired a National Flag Conference in Washington. Representatives from 68 other patriotic, fraternal, civic and military organizations joined us at Memorial Continental Hall for the purpose of drafting a code of Flag etiquette. President Warren G. Harding charged the group with an important task.
"I hope you succeed in formulating a code that will be welcomed by all Americans and that every patriotic and educational society in the Republic will commit itself to the endorsement and observance and purpose of the code that you adopt here today," Harding said.
They were enormously successful. In two days, the assembly came up with 15 rules for the proper use and care of the U.S. flag. Texas and New York made flag code instruction required curriculum in their schools. During World War II, Congress adopted the code as public law.
But still, much work needs to be done. In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that flag desecration was "free speech," despite laws in 48 states and the District of Columbia which said otherwise. In response, The American Legion has been working tirelessly to correct the flawed ruling by championing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution which would grant Congress the authority to protect Old Glory from such vile acts.
Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark, re-introduced H.J. Res. 61, which would do just that. So would its companion measure, S.J. Res. 46, introduced by Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.
Past polling by the Citizens Flag Alliance indicates that most Americans want to see their flag protected. Moreover, every state legislature has appealed in writing to the U.S. Congress to pass the flag amendment and send it to the states for ratification.
The National Flag Conference made history in 1923. One of its participants was Samuel Gompers, the legendary president of the American Federation of Labor.
"To us," Gompers said, "the American flag means more than even its colors in themselves portray. It means the leadership of the democratic and humane struggle that has been carried on through all the ages.
"It is a struggle that continues to this day. And it is for this reason that we must continue to wave the flag at every opportunity.