You’re a grand old (living) flag

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What is it about a piece of cloth that can cause such intense emotion? Nearly two and a half centuries after a painful war of independence and its official adoption by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777, the Stars and Stripes continues to evoke great feeling, even to the point of tears. Patriotic perspectives may vary, but where it leads us is generally the same: An appreciation for what this nation affords us all, an awareness that despite any imperfections, few in the world are as fortunate, as free, as are we.

Cherished symbols reflect complex emotions, ascribing meaning to material things. Grandma’s hand-knit sweater, wedding rings, baby’s first teddy bear; that these are priceless requires no explanation. For some, national symbols can run as deep as family feeling.

So it’s no wonder that after public consternation and confusion regarding the flag’s handling, Congress adopted the U.S. Flag Code in 1942, with guidelines for the flag’s display, use, and retirement. The code is only advisory and without penalty, at least since 1989 when a federal court ruled that destroying the flag in protest represented constitutionally protected speech and could not be made a crime.

The Flag Code advises:

• During the pledge and anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except military (who have separate guidelines, depending on whether in uniform) should stand facing the flag with right hand over heart.

• Display from sunrise to sunset on buildings and flagstaffs; night displays for “patriotic effect” if properly illuminated. Do not display during inclement weather, unless it’s an all-weather flag.

• Hoist it briskly and lower ceremoniously.

• A flag should be displayed daily near public buildings, schoolhouses, and at polling places on election days.

• If on a parade float, it should be on a staff, or if positioned against a wall/window, with the union (blue) to the observer’s left.

• The flag should not be draped over the hood, top, sides, or back of a vehicle (but may be fixed to the fender or chassis).

• If displayed with another flag, the U.S. flag should be above or to the right (except during Navy church services).

• No part of the flag should be a costume or uniform.

When “in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, (the flag) should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”

This is only a snapshot; read all the chapters of the Flag Code at:

Subsection (j) sums up its intent: “The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.”

And forever in peace may you wave.


Sholeh Patrick, J.D. is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at

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