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.