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Published November 01. 2013 05:00PM

After seeing how the American flag and our Pledge of Allegiance have come under fire in recent years, we are heartened when veterans like Jim Thorpe's Francis C. O'Donnell step up to make sure our colors are respected.

O'Donnell has launched his own effort to give family members the option of having the flags of their deceased loved one displayed and honored in public rather than have them retired to a drawer and forgotten. He assured that those flags that are donated would be seen and appreciated in places such as churches, cemeteries and other public venues.

O'Donnell's explanation that the flags would "have a purpose" by being flown in the community makes perfect sense. Retiring the flag of a deceased veteran to a drawer doesn't approach the level of disrespecting the flag but it certainly assures the surviving family members that the flag that once draped their veteran's coffin will be seen and honored by others.

Pennsylvania does have a law making it a crime to show "disrespect" the American flag. That was put to the test in Adams County this summer when a man was charged with a third degree misdemeanor for disrespecting an American flag. Amid the debris and garbage found on his property, police found a dirty flag hanging from a small tree.

One officer described it as "defaced, torn and cut." A public defender also said the flag was defaced in the way it was thrown.

According to the Pennsylvania Code: "It is the responsibility of every citizen to show proper respect for his country and its flag.

(1) Students may decline to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and may refrain from saluting the Flag on the basis of personal belief or religious convictions.

(2) Students who choose to refrain from such participation shall respect the rights and interests of classmates who do wish to participate.

The statute also prohibits the wearing of the flag or its use in advertising.

The Pledge of Allegiance which many of us grew up reciting each morning at school has provoked controversy for most of its 120-year history. It was challenged on religious grounds in 1943, before the phrase "under God" was even written in. That court ruling allowed any student to opt out of the pledge at school.

The pledge went without the "under God" reference until the early 1950s, when groups, led by the Knights of Columbus, began lobbying to have the phrase added. In 1954, Congress passed a joint resolution to include the God phrase. A major influence was President Dwight Eisenhower, who recognized the Knights for their contribution to have the reference included.

"These words will remind Americans that despite our great physical strength we must remain humble," Eisenhower wrote. "They will help us to keep constantly in our minds and hearts the spiritual and moral principles which alone give dignity to man, and upon which our way of life is founded."

Since then, we've seen a steady stream of bills, legislation, and lawsuits challenging the reference to God. Last year, a Michigan law required public schools to give students a chance each day to say the pledge - but not requiring students to participate. At least 37 other states that place similar requirements on public schools.

It feels like the two symbols of liberty many of us grew up taking for granted - the flag and the Pledge of Allegiance - are being chipped away at with each court challenge.

By Jim Zbick

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