Just Whose Flag Is It Anyway?

Who the patriot? Who the abuser? Speak!

4 U.S. Code § 8. FLAG AND SEAL, SEAT OF GOVERNMENT, AND THE STATES: Respect for flag;

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 organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.

(a) 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.

(b) The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.

(c) The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.

(d)The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.

(e) The flag should never be fastened, displayed,used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.

There are no photos available to demonstrate this item.

(f) The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.

(g) The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.

(h) The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.

(i) The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. 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. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.

(j) No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. 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.

(k) 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.

For your consideration also - not categorized:

About Dick Conoboy

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Member since Jan 26, 2008

Comments by Readers

Satpal Sidhu

Jun 30, 2020

Very informative!  This should be taught in our schools and colleges and places of worship and many other places.Thanks Dick. 

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Dick Conoboy

Jun 30, 2020

Thanks for the comment, Satpal. 

Nobody has a lock on the meaning of the flag.  Each of these photos tells a story.  As you suggest, having a discussion of those stories would be imensly valuable to students AND teachers at all levels of the educational ladder.  Noting how our interpretations may change over time is revealing of our growth, our sophistication and our tolerance. 

Thank you again,

Dick

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David A. Swanson

Jun 30, 2020

Nice summary Thanks.

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Satpal Sidhu

Jun 30, 2020

In India, the Offical Flag has much more restriction on its use for private or personal functions.  There is a strict protocol and people follow that.  However, in the name of freedom, we sometimes go over board.

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Dick Conoboy

Jun 30, 2020

Satpal,

Overboard.  Therin lies the rub.  But whose overboard?  Take the first set of pics of the flag being flown upside down.  Both are legitimate uses under the law but what constitutes distress for one might not be distress for another.  The first pic actually was taken at a protest at Wounded Knee.  Other at a neo-nazi rally (not sure why they used the Betsy Ross version).  How does knowing the identity of the flag users change our idea of legitimate use? 

Dick

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Steve Abell

Jun 30, 2020

This is on the American Legion website:

https://www.legion.org/flag/questions-answers/91517/it-permissible-wear-item-clothing-looks-united-states-flag

The important distinction here is that you are not supposed to take an an actual flag and turn all or any part of it into an article of clothing. If you want to show a flag motif on an article of clothing you can do that. The photo of the young lady who appears to be wrapped in a flag is OK as long as it wasn’t a real flag - and it isn’t. Too many stripes and not enough stars.

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Dick Conoboy

Jun 30, 2020

Steve,

But that is not what the code says.  “No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume…”

Not taking sides but is the AL the authorized arbiter?  The AL posts the US Code portion on its website that you linked to above.  The code states “no part of the flag” which speaks of the flag in general terms.  It does not say no part of “a flag”.

And what was the reaction back in the 1960s during protests when flag parts were used on clothing?

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Steve Abell

Jun 30, 2020

Full disclosure: Dick and I are friends so this is a friendly disagreement. We both served in the military and have great respect for our flag.

I’ll split the hair one more time, and then let Dick argue with the American Legion about its interpretation of flag etiquette. The young lady is not wrapped in THE flag. It’s not even A flag. It’s a flag motif, defined as a “decorative design or pattern”. 

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Thomas R. Scott

Jul 01, 2020

The repeatedly key word is “should”.  The word “shall” is not used a single time.  Thus, still complies with Supreme Court of the US constitutional findings regarding any “disrespectful” acts concerning the flag.

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Damon Gray

Jul 01, 2020

Yup. All true. 

I blogged on this many years ago and got next to zero traction with it.  I believe in most cases people simply do not know, and in an attempt to “love the flag” actually end up dishonoring it as noted above.

On a related note, I still remember the dedication of the new flagpole in Fairhaven.  A box the size of a coffin opened and the flag it contained was attached to the rope and it just kept coming and coming and coming.  I thought, “There is no end to this enormous flag!” 

It was magnificent.

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Dick Conoboy

Jul 01, 2020

 Steve,

Putting extra stars or not enough stars and placing 14 bars instead of the 13 on the flag are rarely noticed by the consumer.  The products are made to look like the flag for the purpose of selling something.  Cynical workarounds?   Is this a legitimate use?  Does it cheapen the flag image?  What is the flag’s image supposed to be?  The more one digs the stickier it gets!  :-)

Dick

 

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Damon Gray

Jul 01, 2020

One thing I did not know until just recently, is that there is a preferred method of disposing of a flag in some circles. I don’t know who is the “owner” or originator of the ritual, but I was privileged a few years back to watch a young boy scout methodically disassemble a tattered flag and dispose of it piece by piece by burning in an almost-reverent ceremony. It was quite a moving experience.

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John Servais

Jul 01, 2020

The real surprise is the US Navy protocol officers not knowing the proper use of the flag.  For the president commissioning a new aircraft carrier - a major major event for the navy - their officers miss use the flag, putting it on the overhead - the ceiling - in a plain violation of the code (f).  They then put bunting on the podium with colors opposite of specific instructions in the code, with red at top and blue under (d).  Then they do not even provide a single flag on a staff on the stage, the proper display of a flag at an official government event.

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