Flag Etiquette? Huh … What’s That?

As we come up to the 240th anniversary of the declaration of the U.S.’s independence from Britain, there are several “in the news” reports of people not being allowed to display the flag of ‘Merica’ as they choose.  These types of complaints have become all too common especially this time of year.  A recent story this past week was of a man in Colorado who was asked by his apartment landlord to remove the Star Spangled Banner which was draped over his balcony.  This method of display is acceptable per Section 6 of the U.S. Flag Code but management sent him a warning letter that in doing so he violated their lease agreement to “keep the balcony free of clutter.”  One manager added fuel to the fire stating that flags and displays are limited because they may be “offensive to others.”  What the hell?  “Clutter”?  “Offensive”?

flagbalcony

Another example of where we’ve lost our way:  When my kids were Girl Scouts, they earned “Patriotism” badges at all levels – Brownies, Juniors, Cadettes, Seniors – that each required learning about the flag or our national history, plus doing service projects such as placing flags on graves or attending a memorial service or participating in a parade or color guard.  Due to the shift in Girl Scout philosophy to political correctness, those badges are no longer available as of 2010.  We are training an entire generation how to sell cookies but those children cannot explain the meaning of the flag patch they are wearing at the top of their vests.  What a shame.

Along those same lines, shortly after my retirement from corporate life I volunteered as a literacy teacher and room mom for both daughters when they were in third, fourth, and fifth grade.  I found out that 4 fifth grade students were chosen each day (2 in the morning; 2 in the afternoon) to raise and lower the flag.  I watched in horror my first morning as they came out of the office with a balled up flag.  They dropped it several times, clipped it on the rope upside down (and figured out that was wrong then fixed it thank goodness), and only brought it up about ¾ of the way.  When I mentioned my discomfort, the principal “challenged” me to “make it right.”  Game on!  I did.  I created 4, short 15-minute grade-level appropriate lessons with handouts that covered how to raise and lower the flag, how to fold the flag, how to carry the flag in a parade or place it on a stage, and a short discussion of the Flag Code.  Each of the lessons was taught during the first week of the school year.  Of the 60 plus children in two fifth grade classes, 5 of them were not allowed to participate because their parents refused to sign the permission slips for various reasons … and the comments were along the lines of “how dare you teach my child this.”  Teach them what?  Respect?  Manners?  Responsibility?  Silly me for thinking they would want that to happen.

Flag Etiquette ignorance abounds.  We in Moreno Valley still have similar issues in our little corner of the universe … for example:

Darrell Peeden is currently a candidate for Mayor of the City of Moreno Valley.  Last year he attended a meeting wherein he threw the flag of the United States of America over his shoulder, and he proceeded to speak in opposition to a developer, the city council, and the members of the city planning commission who wanted to change the zoning codes in favor of the developer.  A retired council member at that time objected about Mr. Peeden’s desecration of the flag.

flagpeeden

Flash forward to today … it doesn’t appear that the council member’s comments were heard by Mr. Peeden, or at the least if they were actually heard, they were ignored.  Mr. Peeden is now using the picture shown here and the Press-Enterprise article it was attached to on his 2016 Campaign Facebook page to promote his patriotism, political abilities and qualifications.  In actuality, and sadly, he has violated several subsections of the U.S. Flag Code.  Specifically:

(b) The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise …
… or your sweaty body (by the way, athletes who do this are just as disgusting in my opinion).

and …

(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. …
… wearing the folded flag over your shoulder is a no-no, and when worn in that manner is not allowing it to “fall free.”

and …

(i)  The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. …
… Sorry, strike #3 here.  Mr. Peeden is using the flag to promote advertisement of his political “brand” (i.e. anti-warehousing and political aspirations).

Mr. Peeden’s response to my Please-and-Thank-You comment on social media that I was offended by his blatant violations of the Flag Code was to post pictures of a currently seated council member wearing a shirt that has stars and stripes on it as a “well you support him and he can do it” excuse.  What is even more hypocritical in that regard is Mr. Peeden then posted a picture to his campaign page of him (or possibly his twin brother) holding his toddler who is wearing a sunhat that utilizes the stars and stripes-type pattern as a sort of line-in-the-sand implying “if you believe the city council member is ok in doing so, my kid can do it too.”  Yep, I’m all for patriotic clothing and kissing babies, but there IS, however, a difference between wearing the flag versus someone wearing a piece of clothing that has the same basic colors and style as the flag.  The American Legion states:

Unless an article of clothing is made from an actual United States flag, there is NO breach of flag etiquette whatsoever. People are simply expressing their patriotism and love of country by wearing an article of clothing that happens to be red, white, and blue with stars and stripes. There is nothing illegal about the wearing or use of these items.

Case in point (and God bless Liberace) …

flagliberace

Other groups (a chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America for example), on the other hand, see any depiction of the flag including those on clothing and even as lapel pins as wrong.  Admittedly, this is one of those “fine line” debates that has been raging since the enactment of the Flag Code.  Just know that Congress has suggested numerous times a revamp and clarification the Flag Code to no avail (the last changes were made in 1989), and all 50 states have formally requested a Constitutional Amendment making desecration (specifically burning) of the flag illegal.  The last vote in 2009 in that regard passed in the House but failed by one vote in the Senate.

My opinion?  I think Justice Rehnquist in his dissenting opinion of Texas v. Johnson was correct when he wrote:

The American flag, then, throughout more than 200 years of our history, has come to be the visible symbol embodying our Nation. It does not represent the views of any particular political party, and it does not represent any particular political philosophy. The flag is not simply another “idea” or “point of view” competing for recognition in the marketplace of ideas.  Millions and millions of Americans regard it with an almost mystical reverence regardless of what sort of social, political, or philosophical beliefs they may have. …

Back to Darrell Peeden’s Flag Code violations … comments from numerous civilians, and active and veteran military persons on social media with respect to his violations led him to respond that he felt “attacked,” and he verbally and personally attacked people back in his supposed defense.  I don’t know that mentioning Flag Code violations is an “attack,” but yes, people did state they felt wearing the flag is disrespectful.  As mentioned above, Mr. Peeden can “legally” do as he pleases with the flag since there are no punishments in place otherwise (the Flag Code is not a law but is instead a set of guidelines despite a California code that states to the contrary); however, the U.S. Supreme Court negated the state codes and has said that doing as you wish with the flag is allowed to appease your First Amendment right of “Freedom of Speech” … however, that does not make those actions morally or ethically correct.

Personally, I prefer knowing that the persons representing me or our country show respect to the flag as a symbol of our nation, our history, and our ideals.

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