Thursday, February 26, 2009

Supreme Court Concurs With The American Legion's Stand on Public Monuments

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A ruling announced this week by the U.S. Supreme Court gives weight to an argument by The American Legion against the placing of public monuments that could threaten the sanctity of veterans memorials. Justices ruled unanimously that an obscure religious group cannot use a "free speech" argument to force a small Utah city to erect a granite marker in a local park that is home to a long-standing monument to the Ten Commandments.

"At first glance, this ruling may seem unrelated to us, but it actually sets a precedent that is very important to veterans groups," said David K. Rehbein, National Commander of The American Legion. "The Justices have said, in effect, that a local government can choose what donated public displays it cares to exhibit on public land - and what displays it can reject. This reduces the chance that a monument to an enemy or dissenting group, for instance, could be erected in the same space as a monument to our fallen warriors."

The ruling stems from a case precipitated by a small Salt Lake City, Utah-based religious group called Summum. Summum went to federal court after its effort to erect a marker in Pleasant Grove City, Utah was rejected by the city. Summum maintained that the city violated its right to free speech by refusing the donated monument. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver agreed with the religious group, but the Supreme Court ruling reverses that decision.

The American Legion played an active role in the oral argument phase of the case. Last year, Liberty Legal Institute in Plano, Texas filed an amicus brief on behalf of The Legion and several colleague veterans and military service organizations. The brief's argument summary stated:

"The precedent established by the Tenth Circuit lays the foundation for the destruction of all donated veterans memorials nationwide and chills the erection of any future memorials. From the United States Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, VA, to the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial on The Mall in Washington, DC, to the myriad Spirit of the American Doughboy WWI memorials like that in Ft. Smith, AR, this precedent will require all governments, from the smallest municipality to the Congress itself, to make an impossible decision: either fail to honor our veterans by any donated monument whatsoever, tear down those that currently exist, or allow a monument honoring our veterans and then, upon donation, erect on the same hallowed ground one that dishonors them."

In his favorable Supreme Court opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said that while efforts to suppress actual speech in public parks would ordinarily violate the First Amendment, erection of donated physical entities such as markers and monuments is a different matter. Justice Alito said "the display of a permanent monument in a public park" defines, in part, a community's identity and, so, "cities and other jurisdictions take some care in accepting donated monuments."

Commander Rehbein notes that the Supreme Court has also agreed to hear a case later this year involving the suppression of a war memorial in the Mojave Desert. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has ruled that the memorial to World War I veterans is unconstitutional because it is the shape of a cross, which might connote religious symbolism. A proposal to transfer the land upon which the now-cloaked monument rests to the VFW, which erected the cross in 1934, was also ruled unconstitutional by the court. "Obviously, we favor the full and free display of that monument," said the Commander. "The Supreme Court ruling gives us hope for a good outcome in that matter, too."

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Monday, February 23, 2009

The State of the Union in Troubled Times

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is a document alert -- part of a program sponsored by the National Archives to notify the media of documents in the National Archives holdings that are relevant to national holidays, anniversaries or current events. This program, which is based on original records from the National Archives, its 12 Presidential libraries and 13 regional archives, is designed to offer the media an historical perspective on events that occur periodically and to highlight historical antecedents to current political or diplomatic initiatives.

"For only with complete dedication by us all to the national interest can we bring our country through the troubled years that lie ahead. Our problems are critical. The tide is unfavorable. The news will be worse before it is better. And while hoping and working for the best, we should prepare ourselves now for the worst." -- President John F. Kennedy, State of the Union Address, January 30, 1961.

Forty-eight years ago a young, newly-elected and charismatic President stood before a joint session of Congress to give his first address to a nation ready for change. The young John F. Kennedy personified the transition of power to a new generation. He had returned triumphantly to his former colleagues on Capitol Hill. "It is a pleasure to return from whence I came," he began.

As President Barack Obama prepares for his first address before a joint session of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration features President Kennedy's 1961 State of the Union Address. Given in troubled times, passages of that speech parallel many of our present challenges.

President Kennedy's address was delivered, a journalist wrote, "in the most solemn terms." The President described a country in economic crisis within a dangerous world. He said "the American economy is in trouble." Bankruptcies were up, farm income was down, unemployment had sky-rocketed, inventories piled up, and the economy was "anemic."

But the dangers abroad, Kennedy warned, were dire. The President stressed that "each day the crises multiply. Each day their solution grows more difficult. Each day we draw nearer the hour of maximum danger, as weapons spread and hostile forces grow stronger." He observed, "the tide of events has been running out and time has not been our friend."

Yet, Kennedy stepped back from a completely bellicose stand. "On the Presidential Coat of Arms, the American eagle holds in his right talon the olive branch, while in his left he holds a bundle of arrows. We intend to give equal attention to both."

The solution to these troubles, in Kennedy's view, required tapping into "our reservoir of dedicated men and women -- not only on our college campuses but in every age group -- who have indicated their desire to contribute their skills, their efforts, and a part of their lives to the fight for world order."

Toward this end, the President announced "the formation of a National Peace Corps, enlisting the services of all those with the desire and capacity to help foreign lands meet their urgent needs for trained personnel."

He wanted to make clear to the country that action was being taken to fulfill his campaign promise "to get the country moving again...I have pledged myself and my colleagues in the cabinet to a continuous encouragement of initiative, responsibility and energy in serving the public interest."

The Constitution charges that the President "shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient" (Article II, section 3).

Beginning with President George Washington, this report took the form of an annual address to a joint session of Congress. President Thomas Jefferson dismissed the practice of personally addressing Congress as too much like the British monarch's practice. Instead, he submitted identical written messages to both houses of Congress in 1801.

All subsequent Presidents followed Jefferson's lead until President Woodrow Wilson revived the personal address to Congress in 1913. With occasional exceptions, Presidents have personally addressed Congress in joint session on an annual basis since Wilson.

Today it represents one of the important resources available to Presidents as well as one of the few national pageants in our civic life. Members of Congress, justices of the Supreme Court, military heads of the armed services, and members of the diplomatic corps are all invited to attend the ceremony.

As communications technology has changed, these addresses have gained greater immediacy with the American people. Radio carried President Warren Harding's address live in 1922. President Harry Truman's 1947 address was broadcast live over television and was the first to be officially described as the State of the Union Address. In 1997 the Internet transmitted President Bill Clinton's address live.

This historic speech by President Kennedy can be found in the records of the U.S. House of Representatives, which are preserved by the Center for Legislative Archives. The Center holds the official records of the House, Senate, and legislative branch agencies, totaling over one-half billion pages of records documenting the history of representative government in America.

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Free 'Valentines for Veterans Concerts' Honor Veterans Across the Country

/PRNewswire/ -- As Valentines Day approaches, thousands of Americans will look for ways to express their love for family, friends, and significant others. Whether it's a thoughtful gift or a nice evening out, Valentines Day is about spending time with loved ones and showing them your appreciation. Such gestures and sentiment come as no surprise on February 14th, yet several organizations are working together to spread the Valentines Day spirit a little early this year.

Sunday, February 8th kicks-off National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans Week. In support, Help Hospitalized Veterans (HHV), a non-profit organization that works to physically and psychologically rehabilitate veterans through programs and events that foster active hands and minds, and increase self worth and confidence, will co-sponsor four "Valentines for Veterans Concerts" with local Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospitals.

The concerts span over three days, February 12-14, and will take place in four different cities across the United States. Cities hosting the concerts include: Cleveland, OH; Tampa, FL; Charleston, SC; Prescott, AZ. "We'd like to thank the four different venues for everything they've done in hosting this years 'Valentines for Veterans Concerts,'" said Mike Lynch, Executive Director of HHV. "These great concerts would not be possible if it weren't for the tremendous support given by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Florida State Fair Authority, The Cultural and Civic Auditorium (Old Sterett Hall), and Yavapai College Performance Hall."

A broad range of musical talent will be performing at each concert, including performances by The Spinners, The Tams, The Embers, Russell Thompkins, Jr. and The New Stylistics, and 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Little Anthony & The Imperials. The concert series is free of charge to all military personnel, as well as the general public. "The purpose of these concerts is to show respect and appreciation to America's veterans as well as their families," Lynch continued. "Our hope is that the concerts will boost awareness of local VA Medical Centers, increase understanding of the issues facing severely wounded veterans as well as their families, and encourage people to visit hospitalized veterans or consider volunteering at their local VA."

National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans Week is an official VA program that is celebrated at Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers across the country. While this annual week long celebration, formerly called "No Greater Love Week," dates back as far as 1978, the "Valentines for Veterans Concert" series was conceived in 2007, and was inspired by a love story between a severely wounded Iraq combat veteran and his wife.

Concert organizers met the young man and his wife on Valentines Day, when he was being treated at the local VA in Prescott, AZ. They were so compelled by the couple's story that they wanted to do something the following Valentines Day to honor the two and all the young men and women who've been injured from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The "Valentines for Veterans Concerts" were the result. After the success of prior concerts and the overwhelmingly positive reception from veterans, their families and community members alike, concert organizers have already begun looking to add additional cities across the United States for the 2010 series.

In addition to the "Valentines for Veterans Concerts," HHV sponsors several other high profile national events with the VA such as the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival and the National Veterans Golden Age Games. HHV's sponsorship of these events demonstrates continued support of two important goals that drive their mission: to help aid American veterans in their recovery and to increase community awareness of the many ways in which to get more involved in helping the troops that have served our country.

"Valentines for Veterans Concert" Series Particulars:

When: Thursday, February 12, 2009
Where: Florida State Fairgrounds, Tampa Florida
Featuring: The Spinners and Little Anthony and The Imperials
Expected: 5,000+

When: Friday, February 13, 2009
Where: The Cultural and Civic Auditorium (Old Sterett Hall),
Charleston, South Carolina
Featuring: The Tams and The Embers (popular groups of the southern
Expected: 1,000+

When: Friday, February 13, 2009
Where: Cleveland, Ohio Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
Featuring: Little Anthony and The Imperials
Expected: 800+

When: Saturday, February 14, 2009
Where: Yavapai College Performance Hall, Prescott, Arizona
Featuring: Russell Thompkins, Jr. and The New Stylistics
Expected: 1,500

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