The US Flag Code

Few know the federal regulations for handling and displaying Old Glory—and frequently are in violation of those laws

Ken Sehested

Invocation. “But your flag decal won’t get you / Into Heaven any more. / They’re already overcrowded / From your dirty little war. / Now Jesus don’t like killin’ / No matter what the reason’s for, / And your flag decal won’t get you / Into Heaven any more.” —John Prine, “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Any More

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In grade school, the principal chose older students, two by two, to raise the US flag each morning and lower it, carefully folding it, each afternoon. The task was considered an honor. What I remember most, though, was the stringent warning to do-not-let-it-touch-the-ground!

No explanation for this admonishment was given. And none of us ever asked why. I remember (though never said aloud) wondering why, since the ground was my friend. I lived for being outside, and loved every open space, save for those patches of goathead stickers (aka puncturevine, Tribulus terrestris)—a common feature in West Texas scrubland—to be avoided at all costs when roaming barefoot. Dropping your ice cream cone on the ground might be considered a defeat. But not for most every other edibles.

I was well into adulthood before I learned of the “US Flag Code” which codifies many details on how our nation’s flag is, and is not, to be handled and displayed. Though it is part of federal law, its provisions and stipulations are not legally enforceable. The Code is more like a formal protocol document. And there are provisions which are now routinely ignored by the general public.

For instance, did you know that the Code prohibits using the flag for the following:

• as personal clothing or other apparel (and also bedding or drapery);

• for commercial advertising;

• embroidered on cushions or handerchiefs, or printed on paper napkins or boxes or anything designed for temporary use and discard;

• on sports uniforms or costumes, excepting members of the military, police and fire fighters, and members of patriotic organizations;

• never be carried horizontally;

• never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.

Of particular significance to the Christian community is the provision that any time the flag is displayed along with any other flag (e.g., the US flag and the Christian flag displayed in a sanctuary), the US flag must be “in a position of superior prominence,” which is to the right of the speaker (to the observer’s left) “and its staff should be in front of the staff of the other flag.” Or, on a church grounds flagpole, the Christian flag is displayed underneath the US flag.

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Which is to say, loyalty to the nation, of which the flag represents, outranks loyalty to the cross of Christ on the Christian flag. This is made all the more obvious when the US flag is displayed in massive proportions.

Then again, many people residing in the Global South (or attempting to migrant to the US, or hoisted above the 800 US military bases outside the US) only see the US flag behind concertina wire.

Not to mention appropriation of the flag for sheer gluttony, gun reverence, and nationalist infamy

[See “The United States Flag: Federal Law Relating” for more details.]

And now a final word from South African Bishop Peter Storey.

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Benediction. “This Is My Song.” —VOCES8

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