U.S. flag has earned protection

Watch any major event in our country and you'll find the U.S. flag playing an important role. It waves in the air during the singing of the national anthem before professional, college and high school sporting events. It starts off local, state and government meetings, with the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance.

When prominent Americans pass away, oftentimes flags across the country are lowered to half staff to pay tribute to their contributions to the United States.

And when the men and women of this country who've made the decision to put on a uniform and serve their country through the armed forces make the ultimate sacrifice, that same flag drapes their caskets before they're laid to rest.

So it strikes me as a bit odd that such a symbol is afforded less protection than an object such as a mailbox. Get caught destroying someone's mailbox and you could be facing a fine, as well as short stretch in jail. But swap out the mailbox for the U.S. flag and while you may get some stern looks, you aren't facing any legal risk. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1989 determined that U.S. citizens no longer had the right to protect the flag from physical desecration. What had been illegal for 100 years was suddenly considered protected speech under the First Amendment. Flag-protection laws in 48 states and the District of Columbia were stricken down by the ruling.

Since that time, The American Legion has been at the forefront of gaining passage of a constitutional amendment that would reverse the Supreme Court's decision and give back the right to the people to protect their flag from desecration. And we're not acting on our own behalf. All 50 states have passed memorializing resolutions supporting flag protection. Polls commissioned by the Citizens Flag Alliance - the organization founded by the Legion to fight for the flag - show that 80 percent of U.S. citizens believe the flag is worthy of constitutional protection.

Only a constitutional amendment can undo what the Supreme Court has done. Similar legislation calling for the amendment has overwhelmingly passed in previous House votes; it has yet to receive the necessary two-thirds majority in the Senate needed to send it to the states for ratification.

Flag amendment legislation has been introduced in the House; H.J. Res. 13, introduced by Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., currently has 29 cosponsors and has been referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution. The language of the resolution is simple: "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States."

Similar legislation is expected to be introduced in the Senate in the coming months, but until that happens, I am asking all of you to contact your representatives and urge them to sign on as cosponsors of H.J. Res. 13. Ask them to follow the wishes of their constituents and show their support for the legislation. And when a similar measure is introduced in the Senate, please do the same with your senators.

Ask them to put the decision in the hands of the people who have the greatest right to make this decision - the citizens of the United States. The flag truly belongs to them.