Thursday, December 20, 2012

Photo: United States/Israel Flags Lapel Pin


Flag Code Authority:  “No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America….”  Section 7(c).  “The flag of the United States of America, when it is displayed with another flag against a wall from crossed staffs, should be on the right, the flag's own right, and its staff should be in front of the staff of the other flag.”  Section 7(d).   “When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height. The flags should be of approximately equal size.  International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace.”  Section 7(g).  “The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.  Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.”  Section 8(j).

PLEASE NOTE that care should always be taken in displaying the flags of other nations in a manner “equal” to that of the United States:  “No person shall display the flag of the United Nations or any other national or international flag equal, above, or in a position of superior prominence or honor to, or in place of, the flag of the United States at any place within the United States or any Territory or possession thereof: Provided, That nothing in this section shall make unlawful the continuance of the practice heretofore followed of displaying the flag of the United Nations in a position of superior prominence or honor, and other national flags in positions of equal prominence or honor, with that of the flag of the United States at the headquarters of the United Nations.”  Section 7(c).  Photo (C) 2012 by N. Simmons.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Photo: Flag Flown Upside-Down In Protest


Flag Code violations:  “No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America….” Section 8.  “The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property."  Section 8(a).  Note, however, that the improper use or display of the United States Flag in protest is a form of expression protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.  (See The Flag and the First Amendment.)  Photo (C) 2012 by P. Bober.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Photo: Indoor Display From Staff With State Flag


Flag Code Authority:  "The flag should be displayed during school days in or near every schoolhouse."  Section 6(g).  "No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America...."  Section 7(c).  "No [flags of States, cities, or localities, or pennants of societies] may be placed above the flag of the United States or to the United States flag's right." Section 7(f).  Photo by Ross G. Simmons.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Flags Prohibited on Athletic Uniforms

The tie between sports and patriotism is customary and appropriate, and the pageantry of athletic competition is integral to its experience, cherished both by athletes and audience.  There is an obvious analogy between good sportsmanship and good citizenship, and we applaud their celebration.  National anthems are played and national flags are displayed, both gestures, when done properly, being important reminders of patriotic themes for all participants.  We encourage such reflection at every opportunity, and athletic competition provides an obvious one.

Still, athletic competition is uniquely about the athletes; the talents they possess, the sportsmanship they demonstrate, and the many hours and personal sacrifices dedicated to their development.  As a result, national interests are, and always have been appropriately made subordinate to personal and team accomplishments.  In ancient Greece, a truce existed between all participating city-states three months before and after ancient Olympic games suspending jingoistic matters, in part to celebrate its participants and facilitate their safety.  Similarly, both our collegiate and professional sports’ ranks are blessed with foreign nationals, representing the most talented and dedicated men and women in their athletic disciplines.  In our view, we must take care, while celebrating their accomplishments, to remain sensitive to their right to remain dedicated to their own, home countries, rather than insist that they pay homage to ours.

We have separately concluded that flag designs are inappropriate for printing, embroidering or otherwise displaying on clothing as a general matter.  (See No Flags on Clothing, Please.)  We have also broadly construed Section 8(j) of the Flag Code which provides that “a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations.”  (See Flag Patches on Uniforms (Non-Athletic).)  At issue here, however, Section 8(j) begins in the negative:  “No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.”

Having begun by waning philosophically, we view this rule as appropriately and categorically prohibiting use of the image of the flag on athletic uniforms.

To be clear, in our research toward that conclusion, we have considered the position that insists on a “strict construction” of this prohibition, to the effect that it should be read merely to preclude a literal “flag” itself comprising part of the uniform.  This view holds that reference to “part of the flag” would only prohibit, say, lowering an actual flag and sewing all or some of its parts into the uniform.  We believe this interpretation incorrect.

First, such an interpretation would presuppose that the term “flag,” as used in the Flag Code, is similarly narrow and only to be applied literally, to actual “flags,” and all other representations of the flag of the United State Flag are excluded from its coverage, as a result.  This is not accurate.  For instance, in its prohibition of the use of flags for advertising purposes, Section 3 defines its use of the term to include “any flag, standard, colors, ensign, or any picture or representation of either, or of any part or parts of either, made of any substance or represented on any substance, or any size evidently purporting to be either of said flag, standard, colors, or ensign of the United States of America or a picture or a representation of either…by which the average person seeing the same without deliberation may believe the same to represent the flag, colors, standard, or ensign of the United States of America.”  The Flag Code’s context clearly applies to flags regardless of their composition (See Section 6(c), speaking of “all weather” materials.)  To the same effect, “[t]he flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.”  Section 8(d).  “It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard.”  Section 8(i).  As to this latter authority, if a flag of the United States of America is capable of being “printed or otherwise impressed,” it seems clear that the term “flag” as used in the Flag Code speaks to its likeness and representation, as well as to literal flags themselves.

Second, after its preclusion of athletic-uniform use, Section 8(j) then permits limited use of a “flag patch” (by military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations), suggesting that it interprets its own preclusion of “part of the flag” in athletic uniforms to otherwise include the use of the flag patch, for athletic uniforms are not of part of those latter, permitted uses.  Very few, if any athletic teams could be or should be “patriotic organizations.”  None that we are aware of require an oath to our country as a prerequisite to participation (naturalized United States citizens take an oath to our country, but citizens by birth do not), nor should they, as many sports permit us to enjoy the skills and celebrate the achievements of foreign athletes, and to us it would seem invariably inappropriate to compel their allegiance to the United States solely in order to enjoy the benefits, to them and to us, of their participation in athletic pursuits within our borders.

Finally, we anticipate that our conclusion might be challenged anecdotally, in that the image of the flag has been occasionally found on athletic uniforms (for instance, occasional Major League Baseball uniforms, the United States Olympic Team, among others).  We empathize with those gestures, but empathy does not make that display and use proper when, as we have concluded, it is not.  We have no quarrel with this statute, premised upon our considered thoughts, and whether it is a rule deserving of reconsideration or clarity is a question for our elected, legislative representatives.  To be sure, if the Flag Code is to be overridden by at the initiative of private interests (no matter how patriotic their motives may be), then it undermines the very purpose of its existence, and too, the respect for the very emblem it exists to assure.

Question:  This year, I’ve noticed that the helmets worn by players in the National Football League (NFL) bear a sticker likeness of the United States Flag.  Is this display proper?

Answer:  No, it is not.  We have interpreted Section 8(j) as prohibiting display or use of the United States flag, or even its image, on athletic uniforms.  Moreover, apart from our interpretation of Section 8(j), we have other concerns.  Certainly, in that the helmet of a football uniform is, by its nature, intended for protecting a player from the sport’s invariable contact with other participants as well as the ground itself, it is clear that a flag’s image in that location cannot be afforded the respect the Flag Code requires at Section 8 (i.e., “the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing,” at Section 8; “the flag should never touch anything beneath it; such as the ground,” at Section 8(b)).  More difficult, we believe that its presence on the helmets of participants who are not citizens of this country puts them in an untenable position relative to the dedication they have to their own homeland, and hence, cheapens the display of that emblem by those who truly do so by virtue of their United States citizenship.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Photo: Flag Painted on Automobile Roof


Flag Code Violations:  “The flag should not be draped over the hood, top, sides, or back of a vehicle or of a railroad train or a boat.  When the flag is displayed on a motorcar, the staff shall be fixed firmly to the chassis or clamped to the right fender.  “Section 7(b).  “No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America….”  Section 8.  “The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.”  Section 8(c).  Photo by Ross G. Simmons.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Flag Patches on Uniforms (Non-Athletic)

We have separately concluded that flag designs are inappropriate for printing, embroidering or otherwise displaying on clothing.  (See No Flags on Clothing, Please.)  An exception referenced there and discussed here is selective use of a patch bearing the likeness of the flag of the United States of America.  Section 8(j) of the Flag Code provides that “a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations.” 

Anecdotally, most know flag patches to be so used.  By extension and without express authority, however, usage of a flag patch on uniforms is typically extended to analogous, uniformed personnel as well, perhaps by custom, such as uniformed governmental personnel and private security guards.  We are not strongly opposed to that.  One could argue that any uniformed individual charged with service to or safety of United States citizens is inherently a “patriotic organization.”

Placement on uniforms is not dictated by the Flag Code, but in civil use the flag patch is most often found on the right sleeve.  We surmise that this is derived from the ordinary display provisions of the Code, that typically require placement of the flag to the “the speaker’s right” (Section 7(k)), or elsewhere, that “no other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America….”  Section 7(c).

Military placement is by regulation of the Armed Forces, and varies between the left and right sleeve among military branches and uniforms.  Conventional military usage, however, dictates that “the star field faces forward,” which “gives the effect of the flag flying into the breeze as the wearer moves forward.”  Army Regulation 670-1.  When this rule is applied to the right sleeve, its use is called the “reverse field flag,” since it is opposite of what one versed in flag etiquette would expect.  (For instance, when a flag is displayed on a wall, “the union should be uppermost and to the flag’s own right, that is, to the observer’s left.  Flag Code Section 7(i).)

Regardless, the prerequisite to application of a flag patch, however, is a “uniform,” as Section 8(j) limits its exception to specified or specifically-described organizational uniforms, rather than mere, casual ornamentation.  Thus, private, individual use of a flag patch on clothing is, in our view, improper, just as we have separately concluded that use of the flag or flag designs in clothing, generally, is improper.

Question:  Recently on the highway, I passed a “motorcycle gang,” each member of which had a flag patch sewn on the shoulder of their leather jackets.  Surely this can’t be OK?   

Answer:  Section 8(j) of the Flag Code has breadth, and we believe it would be proper if, according to the internal rules of this organization, it could rightfully, objectively be thought of as “patriotic,” and carried out its activities with appropriate respect and reverence for the United States, generally, and the flag, specifically.  For example, the uniform of the Boy Scouts of America (“BSA”), too, bears the patch of the United States flag on its right sleeve.  In that the oath required of BSA participants calls for a duty “to God and my country,” it is the prototypical “patriotic organization” and such usage is permitted by Section 8(j).  However, once the “patriotic organization” prerequisite is found, the terms of the Flag Code do not discriminate against any one of them, or between them on the basis of other organizational ideologies; in the United States of America, our view is that is as it should be.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Photo: Flag Displayed From Staff


Flag Code Violations:  "When the flag of the United States is displayed from a staff projecting horizontally or at an angle from the window sill, balcony, or front of a building, the union of the flag should be placed at the peak of the staff...."  Section 7(h).  "No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing."  Section 8.  "The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.  Section 8(a).  "The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, floor, water, or merchandise."  Section 8(b).  Photo by Hunter Simmons.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

No Flags on Clothing, Please

Flag Code Section 8’s concept of “respect” for the flag of the United State of America can, at first glance, seem patent and trivial.  There are certainly those who would imagine that any and all demonstrative uses of our national emblem are invariably “patriotic,” simply in their own right.  We are of the view, though, that idle exhibitions of patriotism are little more than a tribute to the exhibitor, a self-pat on one’s back as it were, whereas “respect” speaks in terms of the flag itself.  American Heritage (4th) defines “respect” as “to feel or show deferential regard for; esteem.”  This is to say, one does not automatically “respect” the flag by its use; to the contrary, we suggest that one shows the opposite by its misuse.

Except for patches on certain uniforms (which we address in a separate column), please do not wear clothing of any kind embossed with the American flag.  Please.  “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.  Section 8(d).  “It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard.”  Section 8(i).

No flags or flag designs as clothing?  This may, at first blush, appear Draconian.  But reiterating, one mustn’t confuse pretence with reverence.  The first is of no moment within the body of flag etiquette, whereas the latter is at its very heart.

From prior posts, one knows that “[n]o disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America.”  Flag Code, Section 8.  When the flag is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.  Flag Code, Section 8(k).  The Flag Code’s lesson: thinking the image of the flag is any less deserving of respect than the flag itself is to miss the mark entirely.  To think the emblem of our country might be relegated merely to an idle “design” akin to any beer company or tourist destination, to be thoughtlessly soiled and trivialized as any other article of clothing, shoved in the hamper, unceremoniously laundered, outgrown and over-worn and eventually, summarily relegated to the landfill when its use exhausted or fashions otherwise change—that is, to say the least, distressing.

Now you know.  Still, you should also know that we do not look askance at those who do not follow our example, for it is that freedom itself that provokes the esteem we afford the United States, which the flag represents.  If one chooses to wear clothing bearing flag prints and reproductions, one is free to do so, proving to all who care that he or she is patriotic; congratulations.  In permitting personal choice to supplant the Flag Code, however, there should be no confusion that that is not respectful whatsoever of the flag of the United States of America.

Question:  Look, for years I have bought the annual “flag shirt” sold in advance of Independence Day by a national retailer, and I am proud of the fact that I have eight different versions of it.  Wearing this shirt is a proper display of the flag, right?

Answer:  With all due respect, absolutely not.  A shirt, even if arguably imbued with intangible value akin to a “trading card,” is designed for temporary use and discard, and hence it may not be printed with the image of a flag.  Section 8(i).  It is difficult to imagine any of us treating a shirt as the Flag Code requires we treat the flag of the United States of America, so this is as it should be.  But we wish to be clear about another unfortunate issue raised by the “flag shirt” campaign.  Your question amply illustrates that the effect of this sales strategy is to raise the value of the shirts (to induce their purchase) over the emblem itself which adorns them.  Apart from diminishing the significance of the flag’s image, we are also of the opinion that promotion and sale of this “series” of garments is a regrettable, misguided marketing ploy, and “[t]he flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever.”  Section 8(i).

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Flag Use and Decorum in Parades

Surely there are few sights more stirring for citizens of our country than that of our national flag flown during a parade.  Civic pride is appropriately provoked by the pomp and pageantry of such times, and too, these community gatherings and celebrations are fitting occasions to reflect on the many gifts of our citizenship, and the sacrifices made by those who secured them.  Still, the flag of the United States must be afforded its proper and fitting place apart from and above the ancillary festivities.

In parades themselves, the flag of the United States is generally to be carried in the front.  Accordingly to Section 7 of the Flag Code, if it is carried with another flag or flags, the flag of the United States “should be either on the marching right; that is, the flag’s own right, or, if there is a line of other flags, in front of the center of that line.”  “No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America.  Flag Code, Section 7(c).  (Section 7(b) cautions that generally, the flag should not be displayed on a float in a parade except from a staff.)

Section 9 provides that the salute to the flag should be rendered at the moment the flag passes.  All persons present should face the flag and stand at attention, and except for those in uniform, should place their right hand over their heart.  Those in uniform should render the military salute.  When not in uniform, men should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart.

Question:  I will soon be traveling abroad and will have occasion to be a spectator at a parade in a foreign country.  Given my United States citizenship, and my commitment and oath to this country, what tribute, if any, should I pay to the flag of foreign countries should they be displayed on this occasion?

Answer:  The provisions of the Flag Code apply to the display and respect shown for flag of the United States, so have no literal application.  However, Section 9 of the Flag Code provides that “[a]liens should stand at attention” during any ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag or when the flag is passing in a parade or in review.  This symbolizes that, while we do not ask foreign nationals to pledge their allegiance or otherwise afford undue reverence to our flag in deference to their own citizenship elsewhere, certainly it is expected that they show their respect for our national emblem and the country for which it stands during their time here.  Applied by analogy, as a citizen in the United States, we believe that the Flag Code recognizes world custom, and you should stand at attention at any time the foreign flag is hoisted or lowered, without formal salute, and do the same at the moment the flag passes in a parade or in review.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Displaying the Flag: Typical Outdoor Use

Section 6 of the Flag Code provide guidance as to the times and occasions for displaying the Flag of the United States of America in the ordinary course out of doors.  It calls for display on stationary flagstaffs that are in the open and clearly visible.  In raising the flag, it should be hoisted or posted briskly.  Conversely, it is to be lowered or removed ceremoniously.  There are special rules regarding how to hoist and lower at half-staff. 

Aside from all other rules permitting display, it is improper to display the flag on days of inclement weather.  This is to say that the flag should be lowered and stowed on rainy days.  It may be displayed in this circumstance, however, if adequately protected from the elements, or otherwise constructed of specific “all weather” materials.

By universal custom, the flag should only be displayed from sunrise to sunset.  For those who know this rule, there are few feelings more disheartening than the lifeless flag standing neglected in the pitch of night, and this is the most often overlooked rule of residential patriots who would prefer avoiding daily hoisting and lowering.  For them, the Rules of Flag Etiquette provide an exception for the compliant-minded:  “When a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.

The flag should be displayed daily on or near the main administration building of every public institution, in or near every polling place on election days, and in or near schoolhouses during school days.

Question:  The school in my neighborhood did not hoist the flag today.  What up?

Answer:  We reviewed the weather conditions in your neighborhood, and learned that there were scattered showers that day.  Most likely the flag was not displayed in view of the inclement weather, which is not only appropriate but required.  By the way, if you have questions as to the display or nondisplay of the flag in practice by a public institution, most are very receptive to your constructive input, and you should feel comfortable broaching the subject.  Most public institutions have a specific reason for their approach to flag display, or will be appreciative of learning more from the public.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Displaying the Flag: Half-Staff

In raising the flag, it should be hoisted or posted briskly.  Conversely, it is to be lowered or removed ceremoniously, so says Section 6(b) of the Flag Code.  Section 7(m) speaks to when the flag is flown at half-staff.  It should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant, and then lowered to the half-staff position, in tribute.  At the time of lowering, it should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day.  More elaborate, though, are the rules related to when half-staff display is appropriate.

On Memorial Day, the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, and then raised to the top of the staff for the remainder.  The flag is also generally flown at half-staff on Peace Officers Memorial Day.

The flag is to be flown at half-staff for 30 days from the death of a President or former President; and 10 days from the date of death of the Vice President, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives.  Lesser times are prescribed upon the death of persons holding other, specific government positions.  Separately, by order of and as instructed by the President, the flag is flown at half-staff “as a mark of respect to their memory” on the death of principal figures of federal government, state governors, or other officials or foreign dignitaries.  A state governor has similar authority within his or her state’s borders for state government officials.  Finally, on June 29, 2007, President Bush signed the “Army Specialist Joseph P. Micks Federal Flag Code Amendment Act of 2007,” which permits state governors to order the flag to be flown at half-staff in tribute to a member of the Armed Forces from that state who dies while serving on active duty.

Question:  I have a small, stationary flag posted at my home, not one that is hoisted and lowered on a flag pole.  This is to say that I cannot fly my flag at half-staff.  Is it appropriate for me to display the flag in this manner on days or on occasions where the flag should be at half-staff?

Answer:  Unfortunately, there is no set law or rule that addresses your question, and you should know that when there are unanswered questions, we always turn to the underlying purpose and significance of the Flag Code, rather than its specifics.  Based on that, our view is that the half-staff rules invoke protocols that are of greater symbolism than mere display, but otherwise elaborate upon the display of the flag generally.  As a result, we view it appropriate for flags that are not capable of being displayed at half-staff to be displayed in any event, in whatever form that may take.  A flag displayed at half-staff is a particularly reverent event, and it in no way cheapens the circumstance to display a flag in the ordinary course that is otherwise incapable of being flown at half-staff.  To the contrary, in its own way, any display of the flag is symbolic.  If done as a tribute to an event which otherwise requires half-staff display, it itself is a tribute to that event.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Flag and the First Amendment

Question:  I believe there should be a Constitutional Amendment against flag burning in protest.  What is your view of that?

Answer:  You refer to modern history, which has spawned a class of people who seek to provoke the public not by passive disregard of the flag, but by outright public desecration of the flag, as a display of contempt for our nation.  Examples, including flag burning, are as diverse as the human imagination and not worthy of civil elaboration: they are objectively incendiary.  They anger those who revere our country and who are humbled by the freedoms they cherish.  They outrage those like the authors who have a father/grandfather who was wounded in battle.  They inflame and callously trivialize those whose loved ones never came home, the honor and memory of who seem cheapened by this outrageous gesture.

Nevertheless, in 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated prohibitions against flag desecration based on the First Amendment, which provides:  “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.”  It held that the act of flag burning is a form of expression akin to speech, and its effectiveness in provoking the sentiment of the public was precisely the reason it could not be Constitutionally prohibited.  Justice Brennan observed that: “[w]e do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents.”

Should there be a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting flag burning?  Perhaps, but that is a political issue for another day.  Come what may, we merely observe that one cannot enact reverence, nor can one legislate wisdom:  stupidity is innate.  If one desecrates the symbol of that from which their right to do so is derived, it’s clear this is one who either has not given, or is incapable of giving that gesture much thought.  Still, it was Voltaire in his Essay on Tolerance that said:  "Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too.”

We do not like this result…not at all.  However, when we encounter these village idiots, we pause only to thank God (for surely they have not) that we live in a country where they are not shot where they stand for their conduct.  We then shake our heads, smile, say “God Bless America” to ourselves, and move along.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Authority and References

Unbeknownst to most, the proper display of the Flag of the United State of America is something more than an idle show of patriotism.  Rather, it is the subject of federal law.  The “Flag Code” is a part of the United States Code, at 4 U.S.C. Section 1, but we will call those rules the Flag Code because it’s a whole lot easier.

Granted, these rules are largely unenforced, no doubt because any act of patriotism, even if literally “noncompliant,” should be lauded rather than punished.  Nevertheless, we believe that most Americans that have the dedication and pride to manifest their support for our democracy by display of our Standard, would self-regulate, were they armed with the knowledge by which to do so.

The Flag Code requires that “the flag of the Unites States shall be thirteen horizontal stripes, alternate red and white; and the union of the flag shall be forty-eight stars, white in a blue field.”  Modern flags, of course, have fifty stars, reflecting the admission of two additional states since the Flag Code’s enactment, namely Alaska and Hawaii.  This is prescribed by Section 2 of the Flag Code, which provides that “on the admission of a new State into the Union one star shall be added to the union of the flag; and such addition shall take effect on the fourth day of July then next succeeding such admission.”

Question:  I have a United States flag made before the admission of Hawaii and Alaska as states, and so only has 48 stars.  May I display a United States Flag that doesn’t comply with the federal law, but is proper at the time of its manufacture?

Answer:  Yes.  There is nothing wrong with display of a historic flag.  This is true not only of the “stars and bars” flags compliant at the time of their manufacture, but also of any historic flags which are chronologically accurate and emblematic of the United State of America (such as the “Don’t Tred on Me” flags of days gone by).  That said, any flag displayed in tribute to the United State of America should be done in a way consistent with federal law, and otherwise should be done consistent with the rules of flag etiquette, in honor of “the Republic for which it stands.” 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Flag Retirement

In keeping with the sanctity of our national standard, it is not to be trifled with at the end of its usefulness.  Take one of the observations of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address; the greatest victories for freedom cannot be celebrated without solemn and reverent thought being given to their costs.  So too, as the emblem of our freedom, the flag is not deserving of respect and admiration during its useful life, only to be cast aside and thoughtlessly discarded when that useful life is over.  This is to say a flag, no matter how beaten, battered and useless, is never mere “trash.”

“The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”  Flag Code, Section 8(k). 

It you do not have the time or facilities to properly dispose of a flag of the United State of America (meaning its dignified destruction, not its mindless discard), please seek out those who do.  Most American Legion Posts regularly conduct a dignified flag burning ceremony, often on Flag Day.  You may also contact Boy Scout Troops in your area to do the same.  Granted, this sign of respect may take time you don’t have, but the freedom the flag of the United States of America memorializes is a tribute to those who gave their lives for you to fly your flag.  While flying the flag alone may provoke pride, it is the more general responsibility to the flag as an anthem, for all that it stands, that symbolizes your respect for all that we have as citizens of the United States of America.

Question:  I live in a city, and cannot burn anything (much less a flag) consistent with the laws of my municipality.  What do I do?

Answer:  The retirement of a flag of the United States of America is a solemn and reflective event.  It’s easy to buy a flag, and we would encourage you to accept responsibility for having done so, and retire it by destruction, the way it should be retired.  A fireplace, a barbeque, a picnic area or nearby campsite can provide the venue for this occasion, and a terribly worthwhile and reverent event for family and friends.  If you cannot or choose not to dispose of the flag properly, out of respect for those who gave you the right to make that choice, seek out someone who will.  A phone call or a chat with a neighbor asking assistance…that’s not too much to ask.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Respect for the Flag

Placed in perspective, much of “flag etiquette” is intuitive. The flag is a symbol not only of our country, but also a tribute to all of those who gave their lives to secure it. From the deserts of Baghdad, to the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Flag Code suggests that we appreciate what we were given by those who gave or were willing to give all to defend it. If you really think about it, respect for the flag of the United States of America, as modest and insignificant as it may seem in view of the sacrifice of so many, is probably the only meaningful tribute to these men and women of which we are capable. It makes sense in that light that the protocols of the flag should therefore be approached with some level of awe.

The admonition of Section 8 of the Flag Code is:  “No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing.  Regimental colors, State flags, and organizational or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.”

Question:  It is disrespect to the flag of the United States of America to dip it to any person or thing.  Why then is the flag used in covering a veteran’s casket, which use is associated with the end of one’s life, and hence seems to diminish its significance?

Answer:  By custom, this use does not diminish a flag’s significance, as much as it pays tribute to the individual who made, or was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice “to the republic for which it stands.”  The Flag Code defers to the custom of covering the casket of a veteran with the flag of the United States of America.  As well it should.  The flag is the emblem of our country, and all that it stands for, and to the extent one, notably, a veteran, chooses to value the liberty of his or her brethren over life itself, so to the country and all of its citizens ought pay tribute to that sacrifice. Section 7(n) of the Flag Code provides that “when a flag is used to cover a casket, it should be so placed that the union is at the head and over the left shoulder.  The flag should not be lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground.”  It is a fitting tribute and wholly reconcilable, to honor one who was willing to sacrifice all for the freedoms we enjoy, and yet to maintain appropriate deference to that which represents the freedoms he or she fought to maintain.  It is difficult to think of recognition that is more appropriately auspicious.