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.