“We have room in this country for but one flag, the Stars and Stripes. We have room for but one loyalty, loyalty to the United States.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt
Every Independence Day, when the flags go up on just about every home and business in just about every town in America, I remember a scene from the late 1960s. Some protestors had gathered in front of the White House, and one of them burned an American flag. I asked my father why he did that. Dad said, “He’s against the war, son. He’s cutting off his nose to spite his face.”
To an eight-year-old boy, that explanation didn’t help much. Later I understood more about the war, but less about why an American would burn Old Glory. The banner does not represent the current governmental administration, it represents the country. Desecrating it probably did more harm than good for the protestor’s cause.
After the horrible tragedy of 11 September 2001, patriotism flourished in America, and flags were everywhere. That wave has faded somewhat, but the flags still come out in late June, as they always have. Unfortunately, some are displayed improperly; not out of disrespect, but ignorance.
Everyone knows, of course, that the American flag should never touch the ground, and that if it does it should be burned in a formal ceremony, preferably on Flag Day, 14 June. We all know that it should only be flown upside down as a signal of extreme distress, that it should be lowered to ‘half staff’ to designate mourning, and that it should never be displayed at a lower level than any other flag. Beyond that, the rules are sometimes vague.
The Second Continental Congress adopted Old Glory as the official flag of the United States of America on 14 June 1777. The 94th Congress amended the latest rules for flag etiquette on 7 July 1976. The regulations are strict and rigid, and are meant to ensure the proper respect is shown for the emblem of our nation.
The Stars and Stripes should not be flown in inclement weather, unless an all-weather flag is used. It should only be flown during the daylight hours. If left up at night, it must be properly illuminated. It should be displayed in or near every polling place on election days, and in or near every schoolhouse on school days.
In processions, such as parades, the flag should be carried only on a staff, never draped over a vehicle or animal or person. It should always be at the head of any line of flags, or at its own right in a display of flags abreast. If a group of flags are displayed not in a line, the U.S. flag should be at the center.
If hung vertically from a staff projecting horizontally from a building, the union of the flag (white stars on a blue field) should be at the peak of the staff, away from the building. If hung vertically over a sidewalk or street, the union should be at the top, and either on the north side (on east – west streets) or on the east side (on north – south streets).
When displayed flat against a wall, either vertically or horizontally, the union should be to the flag’s right, the observer’s left. It should be above and behind any podium or speaker, in the position of superior prominence. If hoisted on a staff at such a function, the flag should be to the speaker’s right, and any other flag should be to the speaker’s left. The flag should never be used as a cover for any statue or display, or as a receptacle or wrapping for any object.
When flown at half-staff, the flag should be raised to the top of the staff for a moment, and then slowly lowered to half-staff. When removed for the day from half-staff, it should be raised to the top of the staff for a moment, and then lowered. On Memorial Day the flag is to be flown at half-staff until noon, and then raised to the top of the staff.
If used as a covering for a casket, the flag should be placed with the union over the left shoulder. It should not be lowered into the grave.
The most common inappropriate use of the American flag is probably as apparel. It should never be used as a garment of any type, and no representation of the flag should be worn on the body. If it is, it should be burned in a formal flag retirement ceremony. A flag patch may be worn on uniform apparel of military personnel, firefighters, police officers, or members of patriotic organizations.
The most blatant inappropriate use of the American flag is probably when pictures, words, or emblems are displayed on it, such as happened this year during the presidential inauguration.
The symbol of our country is not mine. It is not yours. It is ours. We should display it proudly and constantly, and always accord it the respect and honor it deserves . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org