What IS Proper Respect for the U.S. Flag?

Each state has a flag, many cities have flags, and recently, respect for the U.S. Flag has resulted in any manner of misconception.

Op-Ed by C J Oakes, Nov 15, 2015

Respect for the U.S. Flag has been in the news lately. Across the nation, athletes have been kneeling during the National Anthem and others burn or otherwise desicrate the Flag in public. At the same time, some have taken to flying the LGBT flag alongside the U.S. Flag. Too, some fly the Confederate flag, also called the Rebel flag. On both sides of the political spectrum, people point fingers and claim disrespect by the others.

Initially, I was going to write an inflamatory piece related to flying the Confederate flag. I grew up in Louisiana where the Rebel flag is flown from ceilings, as curtains, in the back windows of pickup trucks, or anywhere it can possibly be attached.

I always felt this was disrespectful on two fronts. When I joing the military in 1982, I discovered why. While in boot camp, I read the Flag Code for the first time. Yet, it did not fully sink in until I re-read it just last night. I now understand why I felt uneasy at the practices I witnessed related to the Confederate flag.

This was to be the initial title: Is Flying the Confederate (Rebel) Flag a Crime?

Truth be told, I was going for sensationalism…kind of like Donald Trump running for office. If we learned anything from Election 2016 it was that America, as a rule, does not pay attention to truth or facts. Instead, taking sides, fighting like children seems to be the way to get attention, to get traffic, to make money. So I was going to be as controversial as I could. Sorry, can’t do it.

Instead, after discussions with close friends on Facebook, I decided instead to point the finger in both directions. I know, few people will now read this. But at least I will not have sold out for baser motives. That said, lets get to the heart of the issue…

The Confederacy lost the Civil War.

On that note, all agree. The Confederacy lost. Yet throughout the south and much of the United States, the Flag of the Confederate States of America is often flown. To some, this flag symbolizes racism. Yet that is largely wrong.

The "Confederate Flag", a rectangula...
The “Confederate Flag”, a rectangular variant of the Battle Flag. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Flying the Rebel Flag means something entirely different to those who do so. In fact, many who fly it are in no way racist. Most hold the United States in deep regard. Yet, many who do so are the same one’s who decry the recent spate of disrespect for the U.S. Flag.

Flying the flag of the Rebel states is a way of showing that people still believe in States Rights, which again, is not racist, but rather Constitutional. If anyone disagrees, read the 10th Amendment. Read, I say. I know that is difficult for some, but it will enlighten you. I promise.

Now, for those flying the Rebel flag I say…read. Yes, I know it is difficult, but it will enlighten you. Really.

For instance, in reading the United States Flag Code, one reads,

“No person shall display the flag of the United Nations or any other national or international flag equal, above, or in a position of superior prominence or honor to or in place of the flag of the United States or any Territory or possession thereof.” (Italics ours)

– From U.S. Flag Code Title 4 § 7 (c)

From this we gather than the only flags which may be flown at an equal height to the U.S. Flag are those of other nations AND then ONLY IF the U.S. Flag is flown as well.

One of the problems I have with flying the Rebel flag is that usually, the U.S. Flag is not flown as well. This is a clear violation of the Flag Code as shown above. In other words, to fly the Confederate flag without flying the U.S. Flag is disrespectful.

However, more than this, the Confederate flag represents a nation which went to war with America. Flying this flag either alongside the U.S. Flag or instead of would be the same as flying a Nazi-Germany flag or an Iraqi flag.

Yet, even the current Iraqi flag would be acceptable compared to the Nazi or Confederate flags because Iraq is an existing nation–the others no longer exist and so are in no way on a par with the United States. They were defeated. To fly such a flag is to deny defeat. It is disrespectful, though permitted because of the 1st Amendment.

What does the U.S. Flag Code have to say?

What About State Flags? And LGBT Flags? Can These be Flown with the U.S. Flag?

As with the Confederate flag, the LGBT Rainbow flag is often displayed alongside the U.S. Flag. Being, as it is, not an official flag, it often flies alone. As with the Rebel flag, this would be disrespectful of America. But what of flying it alongside the U.S. Flag? And what about the flags of the states?

LGBT flag map of the United States of America
LGBT flag map of the United States of America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once again, let the U.S. Flag Code answer. In Title 4, § 7 (f) we read,

“When flags of States, cities, or localities, or pennants of societies are flown on the same halyard with the flag of the United States, the latter should always be at the peak. When the flags are flown from adjacent staffs, the flag of the United States should be hoisted first and lowered last. No such flag or pennant may be placed above the flag of the United States or to the United States flag’s right.”

In other words, state, city, local flags, and “pennants of societies” may be flown alongside the U.S. Flag, but only lower or at the same height. And never to the right.

The LGBT flag is not a state, city, or local flag, nor is it a pennant.  A pennant is “a long, tapering, usually triangular flag.” Hence, regardless of one’s position on the LGBT movement, the LGBT flag does not have a position beside the U.S. Flag at equal height.

What is the Law Regarding Burning the U.S. Flag?

This is another one many get wrong. Many today are under the impression that the U.S. Flag should NEVER be burned. Although a law passed under the first Bush Administration does ban burning the flag, that ban only extends to buring a new, undamaged flag and in a way which is blatantly disrespectful. That law carries a penalty of fines or imprisonment up to a year.

Note the image above of the Boy Scouts giving the U.S. Flag a proper sendoff.

However, per the U.S. Flag Code, there is one instance wherein burning the flag is not only permitted, but encouraged.

“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.” – From U.S. Flag Code Title 4 § 8 (k)

Note too that the Code states that when the Flag has become such that it is no longer fitting for display, it SHOULD be destroyed. This is another area wherein many crying foul about athletes are themselves guilty of disrespect…failure to properly dispose of the flag. Often, the flag is simply tossed into the trash. As a young child, I used to accompany my father to the trash dump and often found discarded flags in the trash. This was just outside DeQuincy, Louisiana. Point is, there is a right way and a wrong way to dispose of the flag.

At one time, I worked in Door-to-door sales. I have literally lost count of the so-called Patriots flying flags which are ripped, torn, and dirty. DIRTY! If the flag is not to touch the ground, how did it get dirty? It should have been burned.

Point is, if you are going to point fingers at anyone for disrespecting the flag, check out your own flag habits. It seems that most today only get upset about the flag when someone is doing something THEY don’t agree with; in most cases, this is based on opinion, not facts.

In this post, the facts as codified are listed. I am sure that some reading this will disagree with me. Bully I say. I am simply printing facts…as listed by the U.S. Flag Code.

I know. I READ IT for myself. And I challenge my detractors to do the same. Or shut up. Grow up. And stop getting so offended because someone was less respectful of the flag than…

What are the Penalties for Violations of the U.S. Flag Code?

Fortunately, we live in a free society. No matter how offended we may be over someone disrespecting the flag, be that failing to stand for the Anthem or flying the flag of a failed nation, we are free to do.

The U.S. Flag Code itself makes clear that…

“The Flag Code is a codification of customs and rules established for the use of certain civilians and civilian groups. No penalty or punishment is specified in the Flag Code for display of the flag of the United States in a manner other than as suggested. Cases which have construed the former 36 U.S.C. § 17521 have concluded that the Flag Code does not proscribe conduct, but is merely declaratory and advisory.” – U.S. Flag Code Nature of Codification of Customs and Rules

So, there are no penalties for disrespecting the U.S. Flag. Fly the Confederate flag, fly it higher than the U.S. Flag if you like. Fly it instead of the U.S. Flag. Fly the LGBT flag. Fly the United Nations flag, the Chinese flag, the Russian flag, or whatever flag you like beause there are no penalties other than those imposed by your conscience.

Still, a little respect would be nice.

President, Publisher at Oakes Media Group
C J Oakes is an author and freelance writer from Lubbock, TX, USA. In addition to this website, he operates OakesWriting.com and BuyLocalLubbock.com.

As an author, he has numerous books to his credit including the best-selling Survive and Thrive After the Collapse of the Dollar series. In addition, he has written over a hundred books for clients since 2011 and has created innumerable web pages for law firms and others worldwide.

Passionate about Justice, Mr. Oakes believes that the scales of justice are never balanced, but it is the duty of each citizen to do their part to re-calibrate the scales as needed. When the scales of justice shift too far to one side, they must be returned a near as possible to center.

He built this site with the goal of helping students of criminal justice understand how to apply the principles needed for re-calibrating the scales as well as providing easy access to needed study resources.

Criminal Justice Law International welcomes guest posts and anyone interested in contributing to the goals of the site.

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