By BEN R. WILLIAMS
I was driving down the road the other day when a truck passed me, an American flag flapping from a pole mounted in the truck’s bed.
While flags are designed to be majestically whipped by the wind, they aren’t so much designed for flapping behind a truck running 70 miles per hour every single day, and there wasn’t much left of this poor piece of fabric. It was coming apart at the seams, little more than red, white, and blue streamers covered in filth and blackened with exhaust.
The irony was obvious. Here was a guy who wanted to show everyone that he’s a True American Patriot (TM), and in doing so, he had desecrated an American flag.
It made me think about the United States Flag Code.
The Flag Code is Chapter 5 of Title 4 of the United States Code. It’s a U.S. federal law, but it’s not really enforceable. Our Patriot is in no danger of going to federal prison for the crime of being a disrespectful dunce. However, the Flag Code does lay out the customs for the display and care of the American flag, and so if someone truly respects the flag, the best way to show it is by following the Flag Code.
There are a lot of different parts of the Flag Code, but let’s focus on some of the most relevant aspects.
For one thing, when a flag is so tattered and beaten up that it’s no longer fit to serve as a symbol of our nation, it should be replaced in a dignified manner, generally by burning. A number of organizations routinely conduct flag retirement ceremonies, including the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Boy Scouts, and the Girl Scouts. Our Patriot should ideally take his flag to one of these groups to be retired.
There are also some rules that I think most folks are familiar with. For example, the flag should never be flown upside down except to signal distress or danger, and it should never touch anything beneath it.
But there are some rules that are less well-known. For example, did you know the flag should never be used as apparel, bedding, or drapery?
There’s some debate about what this means exactly. Some people say that wearing a T-shirt with an American flag on it is fine; the problem would be if the shirt was made from an actual American flag. Others say that any clothing that depicts the American flag or features a flag-based motif is against the code.
Personally, I defer to Mark Leepson, author of “Flag: An American Biography,” who wrote that “there is something off-kilter about revering the ideals that our flag embodies, attempting to ban its destruction, then using it as a political club or sitting down in a flag-patterned lawn chair, tucking into red-white-and-blue-frosted cupcakes, and dabbing our mouths with a Stars and Stripes napkin.”
Which reminds me, the code also says that the flag shouldn’t be used on anything that would be thrown away, so those Stars and Stripes napkins and paper plates are out.
Another element of the Flag Code is that the flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. Of course, next to attractive ladies, it’s hard to imagine anything that has sold more products than the American flag.
There’s one more element of the Flag Code I find particularly interesting. The code states that “the flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.”
It seems to me that if you were to take an American flag, make it black and white, put a big blue stripe along the middle, and then print the words “BLUE LIVES MATTER” on it, you would absolutely be violating the Flag Code.
I realize this news may be upsetting to some, but it’s not all bad. In the United States v. Eichman, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 that the federal government cannot prosecute a person for desecrating an American flag because that would violate the person’s First Amendment rights. So if someone has a Blue Lives Matter flag, a tattered American flag, or a whole bunch of Stars and Stripes paper cups, they can sleep easy knowing that it’s their absolute right to desecrate Old Glory with impunity.