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Unequal Treatment Violates Nation’s Highest Values
National Commander Bill Oxford
JUL 21, 2020
Many high-profile events pertaining to race and law enforcement have rocked this country to its core in recent months. For those of us who have served in the military, and who now serve our communities in The American Legion, the tension has been especially difficult to comprehend.
The American Legion stands on principles and serves purposes that are violated when justice, freedom and democracy are not applied equally, regardless of race, color, creed, gender or class. These principles formed the foundation of the organization over a century ago, in a very different and deeply divided time in U.S. society. As our nation grieves and tries to reconcile the unconscionable deaths of African-American citizens George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, retired St. Louis Police Department Capt. David Dorn, Federal Protective Services officer Patrick Underwood and others, The American Legion remains firm in a value it has upheld, in the form of a national resolution, since 1923:
WHEREAS, The fundamental law of our country guarantees to all peoples equal rights and equal opportunities and the right to worship their God as they see fit; and ...
WHEREAS, Membership of The American Legion is made up of those who served our country in a time of great national stress, without distinction as to race, color, creed or class; and ...
RESOLVED, ...That we consider any individual, group of individuals, or organizations, which creates, or fosters racial, religious or class strife among our people, or which takes into their own hands the enforcement of law, determination of guilt, or infliction of punishment, to be un-American, a menace to our liberties, and destructive to our fundamental law; and be it finally
RESOLVED, That we consider such actions by any individual, groups, or organizations, to be inconsistent with the ideals and purposes of The American Legion.
This resolution’s place in The American Legion’s conscience is so timeless that it was reaffirmed, in full, at the organization’s 99th
National Convention in 2017.
Throughout its history, The American Legion has fought to improve racial equality not only for veterans, but for the communities they serve. In 1919, African-American veterans of World War I were among the organization’s founders who adopted a mission statement – the Preamble to the American Legion Constitution – that pledges among other things “to maintain law and order,” “promote peace and goodwill on earth” and “safeguard and transmit to posterity the principles of justice, freedom and democracy.”
Where the law has been broken, justice must be served. Where freedom has been denied, it must be returned without prejudice. Our nation has much to consider as we continue to strive toward a shared goal found in the Pledge of Allegiance to our flag: “with liberty and justice for all.”
All means all. Anything less than complete equality in the application of these values today is as un-American now as it was in 1923.
Response to Public Queries Regarding Protests during National Anthem
Americans from all backgrounds have been moved and concerned by the serious threat that inequality represents in this great and diverse country. The American Legion certainly shares this concern and has been on record about this since our founding in 1919.
Many in professional sports have chosen to demonstrate their concern by kneeling or protesting during the national anthem. While The American Legion fully supports the U.S. Constitution and the rights enshrined in the First Amendment, we also support the U.S. Flag Code. The American Legion played a pivotal role in the code’s adoption, which was originally a 1923 collaboration of 68 patriotic organizations. While there are no criminal or civil penalties for violating the code, Title 36, Subtitle I, Part A, section 301 states:
When the flag is displayed—
- Individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note;
- Members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and
- All other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and
When the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed…’
The American Legion realizes that there are many difficult and complex issues when it comes to protesting during the national anthem. Individuals have many constitutionally protected reasons to engage in such protests. In cases where the Constitution seems to contradict the Flag Code, the Constitution must win. For instance, The Supreme Court ruled in Texas vs. Johnson that desecration of the U.S. Flag was free speech. As a result, The American Legion has worked tirelessly to amend the U.S. Constitution and restore the right of Congress to protect the Flag. While The American Legion continues to believe that flag desecration is wrong, it is legal and, in most cases, professional athletes are not engaging in this behavior.
Those who choose to follow the Flag Code should also not have their motives questioned. As such, the best source of inquiry for the reasons behind any protests would be the actual individual and the league or host sponsoring the event (NBA/NFL/MLB/NASCAR/Other). Therefore, The American Legion will not comment on specific instances or individuals.
Whether you choose to take a knee or stand with your hand over your heart, or some other expression, The American Legion and our members have served this nation to protect the freedoms granted to us by the Constitution.
Enrollments after 1/1/2015, anyone enrolled in LegionCare will be covered for as long as they maintain their membership in The American Legion. This new “one and done” approach will save from needing to re-enroll every 5 years. The LegionCare program will continue to cover you for $1,000 of AD&D coverage plus provide the added benefit of up to $5,000 if the accidental loss occurs when on “official Legion business.”
We want you to know too, LegionCare is now available to all members of the Legion Family including the American Legion Auxiliary and Sons of the American Legion members 18 years and older. The Legionnaire Insurance Trust has been working hard to provide valuable benefits to your entire family and we look forward to continuing to serve veterans’ insurance needs.
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