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Flying the Stars and Stripes? Know the Code

There are efforts in Congress to prohibit desecration of the American flag. (Jeff Kubina/Flickr)
There are efforts in Congress to prohibit desecration of the American flag. (Jeff Kubina/Flickr)
July 3, 2017

LANSING, Mich. – This Fourth of July holiday, many Americans will show their patriotic spirit by flying the Stars and Stripes - and they're being asked to keep flag etiquette in mind.

Mark Sutton, public relations officer with the American Legion Department of Michigan, explains that the American Flag should be respected because it represents freedom, democracy and the values of a nation that many have fought to defend.

"There's not a lot of people who are leaving this country - most everybody's coming here, and one of the reasons is the freedoms that we have here," he says. "And those freedoms have stemmed over 200 years, and it's about the flag that we raise and lower every day. To some people, it's a piece of cloth; to others, it's their whole life."

According to the United States Flag Code, the American flag should always be the highest in a series of flag poles and never be displayed if tattered. It should never touch the ground and always be carried "aloft and free." It also should be illuminated if flown at night, and destroyed in a dignified manner when it's no longer in fit condition.

Violating the U.S. Flag Code isn't against the law, and flag burning is protected under the First Amendment. Sutton says there are efforts to change that.

"The Supreme Court has ruled that flag-burning is a form of free speech," he notes. "The American Legion's position is, we are working to try to get the U.S. Senate to pass a law to allow for a flag amendment to go onto a ballot so that we can make it a constitutional amendment."

In June, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Montana Republican, announced legislation to change the U.S. Constitution to give Congress the authority to prohibit "physical desecration" of the American flag. Similar amendments have been attempted in the past, but opponents say acts of desecration are part of Americans' right to expression and rarely occur.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - MI