Back in the people's hands

Back in the people's hands

For 30 years, The American Legion has been steadfast in its determination to return to the people, by amending the U.S. Constitution, the right to protect Old Glory should they so choose. If success is best defined as going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm, the Legion and its heroic battle for the symbol of all we are is bound to succeed this time. Why now? In three words, President Donald Trump.

The Supreme Court, by a single vote in 1989, amended the Constitution by inserting flag desecration into the Bill of Rights, voiding flag-protection laws across America. It put flag-burning side by side with pornography as protected “speech.” It took away from the people the right to protect their flag, a right supported by every court up to 1989. And the court did this in response to a flag-burning by Gregory Johnson, leader of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade. 

The flag amendment states, “The Congress shall have the power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.”  

The amendment does not, in fact, protect the flag but simply allows the people to protect it if they so choose. The goal is not to punish flag burners, but to recapture our Constitution. Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis suggests an interesting penalty: “Forget jail if you burn the American flag. You’ll spend two years in the military. I promise you, you’ll be cured of the desire to burn our flag ever again. You’ll be waving it, saluting it, or … you’ll be lying under it.”

The American Legion and the Citizens Flag Alliance pushed this issue to within one vote in 2006. At that time, more than 75 percent of the American people, and every state in the union, supported the amendment.

Why is this important? The U.S. flag represents all that unites us as one nation under God. Never in my lifetime has our Constitution been so under assault as it is now. But those who burn our flag are not a threat to who we are. The threat comes from those who say desecrating the flag is speech, specifically the Supreme Court. Some of the founders, especially Thomas Jefferson, expressed concern that the judiciary, the only unelected life-tenured branch of government, might weaken to the lust for power. They were right. In an effort to immunize the judiciary from the whims of the people, they immunized them from the will of the people, thus allowing usurpation of the governing power of the people. 

Jefferson warned that “the germ of dissolution of our Federal Government is in the constitution of the Federal Judiciary – an irresponsible body (for impeachment is scarcely a scare-crow), working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, advancing its noiseless step like a thief over the field of jurisdiction until all shall be usurped from the States and the government be consolidated into one.” 

The flag amendment is about protecting our Constitution, heeding the warning of Jefferson and agreeing with President Abraham Lincoln: “If the policy of the government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by the Supreme Court ... the people will have ceased to be their own rulers.”

President Dwight D. Eisenhower said he made two mistakes, and both of them were on the Supreme Court. Should we heed the words of Jefferson and Lincoln or let these people rule us?

These elite are the same people who believe pornography is protected speech, but prayer is not, and that the Ten Commandments are a threat to the public square. They are horrified, as are vampires, by the cross – clearly not an endorsement of religion but simply a symbol of sacrifice. They believe it is protected speech to fraudulently wear military decorations, even the Medal of Honor. And, of course, you can burn the flag but not on their steps – and on and on.

There is an unending effort in this country to keep the hardworking hands of the people off their Constitution, leaving it in the grip of lawyers and elites. This must end. The flag amendment would be a great step forward in educating the people on who actually owns the Constitution.

The Constitution protects three forms of expression: freedom of speech, the spoken word; the press, the written word; and peaceful assembly. Burning the flag meets none of the criteria in the First Amendment. If the founders meant expression, these three are redundant, and you would have to be bereft of common sense to believe flag-burning is speech. As baseball great Tommy Lasorda said, speaking for common-sense Americans: “Speech is when you talk.” 

Flag-burning is not speech, period. 

The U.S. flag is a symbol, and symbols are indispensable in a democracy. Our gratitude for the great bounty that is America is expressed through symbols: grave stones, obelisks, walls, and the greatest of all symbols, Old Glory. The word “symbol” is from the Greek word meaning “half token,” which, when united with its other half, represents something above and beyond itself (think of wedding rings, for example). The other half token of the flag is the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence; the flag embodies the values embedded in our sacred Constitution. The legalized desecration of the symbol of the Constitution symbolizes the ongoing desecration of our Constitution. 

Our flag is unique. It does not represent a dictator or a party or a geography, but a set of values. It is the shroud for the coffins of our dead servicemembers, veterans and public officials; it is the tissue for the tears of those left behind. Because of its ties to our values, the U.S. flag is the only flag with an anthem and code dedicated specifically to it. 

As one who has for many years interacted with students and teachers, I have concluded that the primary purpose of all education in America should be to grow patriots. A democracy cannot survive without a patriotic citizenry. Life has no meaning, a country no future, unless lived for the benefit of future generations. I hear often from teachers that there is no greater aid to inspire patriotism in our youth than the U.S. flag. The outbreak of disrespect by the likes of Colin Kaepernick and Gregory Johnson has had a negative effect on too many young people. What we see among today’s youth and elite reveals what we are teaching them.

Better they have as a hero William Carney, a 23-year-old ex-slave who believed he could best serve his God by serving his country in the Civil War. The flag was vital in combat at the time, for communication and direction in battle. When the flag bearer was shot, Carney dropped his rifle and caught the flag before it hit the ground. He then led his fellow soldiers through the battle, enduring shots in the right leg, chest, right arm, left leg and head. When Carney finally dragged himself into camp to the cheers of his fellow soldiers, he said, “I only did my duty. Our flag never touched the ground.” 

Which brings me to President Trump, who denounced Kaepernick and others who have disrespected our flag. As would be expected, Trump was condemned for attacking freedom of “expression,” yet he’s on the side of our founders, our Constitution and our people on this one.

Born on June 14, Flag Day, Trump never conducts a rally without praising the splendor, beauty and importance of Old Glory. We have never had a president who is as supportive of our right to protect our flag. Trump has no say in constitutional amendments, but he seems to be begging for someone to do something about those who desecrate our flag. May he rally Americans in support of The American Legion’s battle to return to the people their constitutional right to protect Old Glory.  

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Patrick H. Brady is a Medal of Honor recipient, former chairman of the Citizens Flag Alliance and a member of The American Legion’s 100th Anniversary Honorary Committee.