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Reflecting on Freedom

June 30, 2006

As South Dakotans gather across the state to celebrate our nation's independence, we are reminded of the freedoms we sometimes take for granted, and the great sacrifices that have been made over the years to secure those freedoms.

From a kindergartener reciting her first pledge of allegiance to a college graduate starting a business; from a father teaching Sunday school to a young woman enlisting in the military-these are the freedoms, great and small, that are central to our way of life and set America apart from the rest of the world as a beacon of liberty and a standard of excellence.

This is a time to remember our veterans who have sacrificed and dedicated lifetimes of service to the cause of freedom, along with our men and women in uniform who are far from home this Fourth of July, putting our safety and security first on the front lines of the War on Terror.

South Dakota has 150 soldiers currently serving in the War on Terror. We owe them a great deal of thanks for their brave service, and I hope we can pause to remember them and their families in our thoughts and prayers as communities gather across the state during the Fourth of July holiday.

Since the birth of our nation, on battlefields from Korea to Germany, America's men and women in uniform have looked to one unifying symbol for direction and promise: the American flag.

Many veterans across the state have expressed to me their desire to see the American flag protected from desecration. I strongly share that view and have consistently advocated for flag protection during my time in Congress.

The American flag has been woven with some of the most memorable scenes from our nation's history. It was raised at Mt. Suribachi during the battle for Iwo Jima, and draped over the side of a stricken Pentagon on September 11th. Here in South Dakota, in the fall of 1804, Lewis and Clarke first raised the red, white and blue at the mouth of the James River, near present-day Yankton.

Above all, the American flag symbolizes the freedoms we hold so dear. But it should never fall victim when those freedoms are exploited.

I stand in strong support of a Constitutional Amendment that would give Congress the authority to ban flag burning and protect one of America's most enduring symbols of sacrifice, national unity, and freedom. The flag is a sacred American object. It should not be used as a prop to mock what this country represents.

Unfortunately, the flag protection amendment I cosponsored recently fell one vote short of passing in the U.S. Senate. We need to protect the flag for generations to come. In doing so, we pay homage to the millions of veterans who have fought and sacrificed for the freedoms it represents, and we preserve it as a sturdy compass for our soldiers serving today.

The values that have shaped our country for more than 200 years-family, faith, and freedom-are the same values that run deep in our traditions and way of life in South Dakota. These values have been passed on from generation to generation and keep our communities close-knit, safe and prospering.

I wish all South Dakotans a safe and happy Fourth of July, and I hope we can each take a moment to consider our freedoms and blessings and express our gratitude to those who have sacrificed to defend and preserve them.