LETTERS: American flag symbolizes freedom, deserves respect

Hank Hustus

Too many times we see the American flag treated with disrespect. Tattered and torn, flying with one grommet attached, left hanging without lighting it at night, hanging it the wrong way, using it to cover a table and the list goes on.

Over the past 235 years, so many hundreds of thousands of people have given their lives fighting for America’s freedom so that we can be a nation of free people today. My question: Why do we still disrespect those brave souls by not respecting the flag that they fought so hard and died for?

Never mind if you support the wars or protest them, maybe you hate the government or don’t even care what goes on in America or whatever else you do not like, but let someone take your freedom away and see who is the first to complain. We take our freedom for granted, and we shouldn’t.

Just look around and see for yourself how the American flag is being disrespected. Do we say something or do we just let it pass without any thought? Do we all need to relearn what the word freedom means?

Thank you to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Web site for the following flag etiquette.

U.S. Flag Code:

Guidelines for Display of the Flag:

Public Law 94-344, known as the Federal Flag Code, contains rules for handling and displaying the U.S. flag. While the federal code contains no penalties for misusing the flag, states have their own flag codes and may impose penalties. The language of the federal code makes clear that the flag is a living symbol.

In response to a Supreme Court decision which held that a state law prohibiting flag burning was unconstitutional, Congress enacted the Flag Protection Act in 1989. It provides that anyone who knowingly desecrates the flag may be fined and/or imprisoned for up to one year. However, this law was challenged by the Supreme Court in a 1990 decision that the Flag Protection Act violates the First Amendment free speech protections.

Important things to remember:

Traditional guidelines call for displaying the flag in public only from sunrise to sunset. However, the flag may be displayed at all times if it’s illuminated during darkness. The flag should not be subject to weather damage, so it should not be displayed during rain, snow and wind storms unless it is an all-weather flag.

It should be displayed often, but especially on national and state holidays and special occasions.

The flag should be displayed on or near the main building of public institutions, schools during school days and polling places on election days.

It should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.

When carried in procession with other flags, the U.S. flag should be either on the marching right — the flag’s right — or to the front and center of the flag line.

When displayed on a float in a parade, the flag should be hung from a staff or suspended so it falls free. It should not be draped over a vehicle.

When displayed with another flag against a wall from crossed staffs, the U.S. flag should be on its own right — left to a person facing the wall — and its staff should be in front of the other flag’s staff.

In a group of flags displayed from staffs, the U.S. flag should be at the center and the highest point.

When flags of states, cities or organizations are flown on the same staff, the U.S. flag must be at the top, except during church services conducted at sea by Navy chaplains.

When other flags are flown from adjacent staffs, the U.S. flag should be hoisted first and lowered last. It must be on the right of other flags, and no other flag should stand higher than it. Flags of other nations should be flown from separate staffs. International custom dictates that flags of different nations be displayed at the same height in peacetime and be approximately the same size. If the flag is suspended outdoors from a rope stretched from a building to a pole, the flag should be hoisted out from the building with the union first. When the flag is displayed other than from a staff, it should be flat or suspended so that it falls free.

When displayed against something, such as a wall, the union — the blue field of stars — should be at the top and to the flag’s own right, the observer’s left, whether displayed horizontally or vertically.

When displayed over a street or sidewalk, where it can be seen from either side, be sure the union is to the north on an east-west street, and to the east on a north-south street. The same directions apply in a building lobby or corridor with entrances to the east and west or north and south.

When displayed flat against the wall on a speaker’s platform, the flag should be above and behind the speaker with the union on the left side as the audience looks at it again, the flag’s right.

When the flag hangs from a staff in a church or public place, it should appear to the audience on the left, the speaker’s right. Any other flags displayed should be placed on the opposite side of the speaker.

The flag may cover a casket, but should not cover a statue or monument for unveiling. It should never be draped or drawn back in folds. Draped red, white and blue bunting should be used for decoration, with the blue at the top and red at the bottom. On a casket, the union should be at the deceased person’s head and heart, over the left shoulder. But the flag should be removed before the casket is lowered into the grave and should never touch the ground.

The flag may be flown at half-staff to honor a newly deceased federal or state government official by order of the president or the governor, respectively.

On Memorial Day, the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon. Whenever the flag is displayed at half-staff, it should be first raised to the top. Lowering from half-staff is preceded by first raising it momentarily to the top.

Other things not to do with the flag:

Out of respect for the U.S. flag, never:

Dip it for any person or thing, even though state flags, regimental colors and other flags may be dipped as a mark of honor.

Display it with the union down, except as a signal of distress.

Let the flag touch anything beneath it: ground, floor, water, merchandise.

Carry it horizontally, but always aloft.

Fasten or display it in a way that will permit it to be damaged or soiled.

Place anything on the flag, including letters, insignia or designs of any kind.

Use it for holding anything.

Use it as wearing apparel, bedding or drapery. It should not be used on a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be attached to the uniform of patriotic organizations, military personnel, police officers and firefighters.

Use the flag for advertising or promotion purposes or print it on paper napkins, boxes or anything else intended for temporary use and discard.

Rendering Honors:

During the hoisting or lowering of the flag or when it passes in parade or review, all persons present in uniform should render the military salute. Members of the armed forces who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute. All other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, or if applicable, remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Citizens of other countries present should stand at attention. All such conduct toward the flag in a moving column should be rendered at the moment the flag passes.

With the passage of the February 2008 Defense Authorization Act, specifically S.1877 which amended Title 4, U.S. Code, veterans may now salute the U.S. flag during the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag or when the flag is passing in a parade or in review. In September 2008, Congress passed and the president signed the 2009 Defense Authorization Act which included sec. 595 and added the playing of the national anthem to the occasions for a military hand salute by veterans. Later legislation is planned to add the Pledge of Allegiance. The VFW encourages all veterans to render a hand salute under these circumstances, regardless of their headgear or lack of headgear.

Note: Congress is aware that they had overlooked the national anthem and have added an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 [(S.3002, section 1081]) to amend title 36, USC, to allow veterans to salute during the national anthem. Below is the wording in the bill.

Section 301(b)(1) of title 36, United States Code, is amended by striking subparagraphs (A) through (C) and inserting the following new subparagraphs:

(A) Individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note;

(B) members of the armed forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and

(C) all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart

When the flag is worn out or otherwise no longer a fitting emblem for display, it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

The VFW will accept flags for proper disposal.


Hank Hustus