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).