Senator John ThuneSadly, we are all too familiar with the scene on the nightly news or accounts in newspapers where a group of protestors douse an American flag in kerosene and set it on fire. While I defend the right of demonstrators to speak out on whatever issues are important to them, I do not think it is necessary that they defile our flag in the process. The American flag is a national treasure. It’s our one enduring symbol of national unity and should be protected from desecration. As a result, I have always been a strong supporter of a constitutional amendment banning flag burning.
To that end, on April 14, 2005, I cosponsored a bill that would authorize Congress to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States. I am happy to report that we currently have 56 bipartisan cosponsors of this important legislation. I have supported similar legislation in the past, but this year, many believe passage may finally be possible.
To me, our American flag is more than cloth and ink. It is a universally recognized symbol that stands for liberty and freedom. It is the history of our nation, marked by the blood of those who died defending it. Many South Dakotans have told me they support the efforts to protect the flag. When I recently attended the annual meeting of the South Dakota American Legion, I was reminded that their highest legislative priority is the flag amendment.
Protection of our flag from physical desecration does not impair free speech. It does not prevent ideas from being expressed. It involves no censorship of ideas. The amendment would prohibit conduct with respect to one unique object, the U.S. flag.
In recent months, many units from the South Dakota National Guard have returned home from Iraq, and some are now preparing to depart. As our troops fight to defend the principles of the American flag around the world, Congress has a responsibility to defend the flag at home.
I agree with what Gen. Norman Schworzkopf said in a letter to Congress: “The flag remains the single, pre-eminent connection among all Americans. It represents our basic commitment to each other and to our country. Legally sanctioned flag desecration can only serve to further undermine this national unity and identity that must be preserved. The flag protection constitutional amendment is the only means of returning to the people the right to protect their flag.”
Veterans from across South Dakota have asked me to step up and defend the flag of this great nation and I am answering that call. Appropriately, our bill to protect the flag will probably go to the floor of the Senate shortly after the Fourth of July.