How many flag ‘rules’ are you violating?

I had been working as the editor of the Brookfield Daily News-Bulletin when a former military police officer joined the staff.

After serving in the first Gulf War in 1990, Terry returned to his native Missouri and landed a job with the newspaper he grew up reading.

Terry had natural communication skills that served him well in his new job, and he remains in media sales today. But at the newspaper, he had the unique opportunity to combine those communication skills with another passion: his country.

Terry was a true patriot, even after spending years serving in the Army. As a civilian, he was commander of the local VFW, a church deacon, and when he wasn’t chasing his four children, he’d spend hours one-on-one with aging vets to help them navigate a sea of red tape to ensure they got benefits they deserved.

And as someone who cared deeply about his country and what it stood for, Terry was a staunch defender and advocate for all things America, including the flag.

At the time in the early 1990s, the flag was embroiled in a controversy that required the intervention of the U.S. Supreme Court. Specifically, in question was whether or not burning of the U.S. flag in protest is protected as freedom of speech.

The Supreme Court ruled it was, which in effect, made enforcement of the penalty provision of the flag code invalid.

Until that case, few people had ever heard of the flag code, much less what was in it. Terry was an exception.

He knew the flag code forward and backward and was more than willing to share that knowledge. As such, he started writing a column for the newspaper and called it Focus on the Flag.

The column was actually more informative than you might think as the flag code has a lot of details in it that are largely unknown and/or ignored; at least, that’s the indications based on the actions of many self-proclaimed “patriots.”

The flag code came around in 1923 thanks to the efforts of the American Legion and 68 other community organizations. With no guidelines regarding display of the flag, representatives from these groups drafted the code (on Flag Day no less), which actually became law in 1942.

And while every president since has the opportunity and ability to unilaterally change the code, it remains largely the same as it first appeared nearly 100 years ago.

In fact, the Supreme Court’s decision, which effectively rendered the law obsolete due to stripping its consequences, is probably the biggest change that has occurred.

Which is very fortunate, because like I said, patriotic Americans violate it … every … single … day.

For example:

“The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.” Sounds simple enough, right? Well, how many times have you turned on a football game and seen that really cool looking horizontal flag spread out across the entire 100-yard field, with people on all four sides so they can make it “wave?” Yeah … while it’s pretty, it’s a violation of the flag code.

“No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.” Ooh, here’s another tricky one. So basically, all those flag patches on baseball, or football uniforms, while well intended, are violations. The code does go on to state that uniforms of military personnel, firemen, policemen and “other patriotic organizations” can have a patch. Whether that “other patriotic organization” would apply to the Boy Scouts isn’t clear.

“The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever.” Yeah, this one we blatantly ignore and don’t even care we do it. Once you start paying attention, it’s shocking how many times you see Old Glory flying in the background of an ad for car dealers, attorneys, politicians, pretty much everything.

“[The flag] should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard.” This sentence follows the advertising one and again, is another frequently violated provision. The next time you are invited to a Memorial Day or July 4th barbecue, you’ll most likely see evidence of this as well from the plates to the napkins to holiday-themed beer cans.

There’s lots of other no-nos, including the flag can’t be displayed on a float in a parade, or attached to a vehicle or boat, and it shouldn’t be flown at night unless its illuminated.

The flag code is one of 50 sections of the U.S. Code, section four to be exact. The U.S. Code is essentially a compilation of all federal laws, with topics including Banks (section 11), copyrights (17), education (20) and even Indians (25) and intoxicating liquors (27). And number 36 is a topic called “patriotic societies and observations,” which does in fact state everyone should stand for the national anthem and face the flag.

So yes, technically speaking, when NFL players or anyone else kneels while the anthem is played, they are “breaking” the rules and thusly, disrespecting the flag.

But if we really want to be technical about it, so is nearly everyone else and very few seem to care.