Can you take a knee and still show respect to the flag on June 14?

Photo by Ellen BoegelPhoto by Ellen Boegel

As evidenced by royal wedding merchandise and World Cup shirts emblazoned with the United Kingdom’s Union Jack, national flags can be symbols of unity and pride. They also can be instruments of division and hatred. President Donald Trump announced the 2018 celebration of Flag Week just days after disinviting the Philadelphia Eagles from the White House and implying that they were “disrespectful” of the flag and national anthem.

The United States observes Flag Day on June 14 in commemoration of the June 14, 1777, adoption of the Stars and Stripes as the nation’s official flag. Flag Week, “the week in which June 14 falls,” and Honor America Days, “the 21 days from Flag Day through Independence Day,” are designated by Congress as special occasions to “display the flag” and honor the country. At this time of year and in this year in particular, when some Americans measure patriotism by the size and number of their flags, it is important to be mindful of the prescribed manner for displaying and showing respect for the flag.

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Most Americans know that standing and placing “their right hand over the heart” is the proper way to demonstrate respect for the flag when it is being carried past, or being raised or lowered, but flag displays have been the cause of some controversy in our nation. What many ostensibly patriotic Americans do not know and, if known, do not obey, is that the federal law also prohibits using the flag “as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery,” “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,” “for advertising purposes” or “as a costume or athletic uniform.” Since 1976 an exception has been made for lapel pins.

Many ostensibly patriotic Americans do not know and, if known, do not obey, that federal law prohibits using the flag “as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery,” “embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs" and more. 

Thus, wearing a Stars and Stripes shirt, cap or tie and using an American-flag tablecloth and napkins at your Fourth of July party are, according to federal law, as disrespectful as kneeling during the national anthem. Flying the flag in bad weather and after sunset, unless illuminated, also is prohibited.

Laws cannot explain why home or auto owners who display flags 24/7, or purveyors and purchasers of flag merchandise that commercialize and desecrate our most honored symbol, are not vilified, but the Flag Code’s lack of enforcement provisions explains why they are not punished. As the Congressional Research Service notes, “The Flag Code is intended as a guide to be followed on a purely voluntary basis to insure proper respect for the flag.”

The Flag Code is not enforced because the First Amendment protects our right to use the flag for our own free speech purposes. The Constitution protects the right of politicians to wrap themselves in the flag (figuratively and literally) as clearly as it protects the right of protesters to burn or deface the flag.

The Flag Code was enacted in 1942 to protect the flag from unseemly and disrespectful conduct. Americans who respect the flag, “the Republic for which it stands” and the U.S. Constitution should know the law and follow it as their hearts and minds dictate, without casting aspersions on the patriotism of those who do not wear their flag on their shirtsleeves or front lawns or lapels.

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J Cosgrove
2 months ago

I am glad the author came out against kneeling during the national anthem.

Gail Sockwell-Thompson
2 months ago

I’m sure you are. Your expressed views are nothing if not consistent.

J Cosgrove
2 months ago

Thank you. Consistently in support of African Americans. Consistently in support of a non chaotic immigration system. Consistently in support of economic opportunity for everyone. Consistently in support of the Catholic faith as taught for 2000 years. Consistently in support of good science. Consistently in support of the country's laws. Consistently in support of our military. Consistently in support of accurate history. Comsistenly against Fake News. Consistently in support of the truth.

Gail Sockwell-Thompson
2 months ago

Sure (eye roll). How is your consistency reflected in your reaction to a sitting so-called U.S. President saluting a North Korean officer?

J Cosgrove
1 month 4 weeks ago

Sure (eye roll).

Absolutely, all true. It's not like I don't post comments on these topics so you can't prove me wrong.

Gail Sockwell-Thompson
2 months ago

I’m sure you are. Your expressed views are nothing if not consistent.

Gail Sockwell-Thompson
2 months ago

Today someone posted a photo of a male in a t-shirt that read ‘I stand for the flag.’ This person was sitting in a park using a U.S. flag as a picnic blanket. It’s never been about patriotism. It’s about sanctioning public executions against African Americans.

James Haraldson
2 months ago

How dare you infer that public executions against anyone are sanctioned by anyone. The Eighth Commandment is still operative.

Gail Sockwell-Thompson
2 months ago

James, the listener/reader infers; the writer/speaker implies. I did neither. None of those opposed to kneeling dates address the facts of what the participants are protesting. It’s called deflecting.

Gail Sockwell-Thompson
2 months ago

James, the listener/reader infers; the writer/speaker implies. I did neither. None of those opposed to kneeling dates address the facts of what the participants are protesting. It’s called deflecting.

Andrew Wolfe
2 months ago

The "facts" don't support your claim of "public execution" in the slightest. To claim that fatal police shootings are "public executions" is unsupportable. What's really bigoted on your part is label Americans as a whole, the entire country, as racists using the police to perpetuate the lynchings of blacks. My flag freed the slaves and finally exterminated the Jim Crow laws perpetuated by the successors of slaveholders. It was not just the Jews, the French, the Chinese, the Filipinos, and other foreigners saved by our flag: it was black people in our own country. To cherry-pick your outrage from isolated incidents is no less prejudiced and dehumanizing than any exercise of "white privilege."

J Cosgrove
1 month 4 weeks ago

Blacks are less likely to be shot by police than are whites in response to a police intervention/crime. The author and editors knows this. The protests are bogus. So are whites being publicly executed too? Is the real racism going on against whites?

Mark M
1 month 4 weeks ago

You bet is. As is black on white crime.
Or even more severe black on black crime.
The author and editors know this too.
Nevertheless, the Afro-American community is too savvy to depend upon Left-wing white people for anything.

J Brookbank
2 months ago

My now deceased father was a 4th degree Knight of Columbus, a decorated vietnam vet interred at a national military cemetery and he was crystal clear: he put his life on the line during a 20 year active duty career so that Americans can interact ANY way they want with regard to the American flag. He put his life on the line in support of genuine democracy which protects the right of any and every citizen to kneel during the anthem OR to not know the words, like the current president of the United States.

James Hickman
2 months ago

Hi. Veteran and 4th Degree Knight here. Did your father really tell you that he served for twenty years on active duty so that people “can interact ANY way they want” or did you infer that? In the military we’re taught not only how to behave during the anthem, but also why those guidelines exist. If he was ok with people mooning or running around or shouting or cursing or murdering or drowning out the music with obscene music or countless other actions that you suggest he risked his life for by the word ANY, then I think he was mistaken. But somehow I think you’ve mischaracterized your father’s honorable service because you have certain deeply held political views, which is an unfortunate thing to do on Flag Day and the Army’s birthday. God bless you. I hope we can agree that most of our day is free to think and say what we want, but that prayer should guide us in how we choose to act. A rare moment that calls for unity is unlikely the time that God wants us to take a knee. And I also think that God wishes we were taking an authentic knee more often. Attendance rates at Mass are but one sign that we aren’t taking enough knees. Support for murdering children who haven’t even been born or to support members of the same sex to enter a marriage covenant are also signs that we aren’t taking enough knees.

James Hickman
2 months ago

Hi. Veteran and 4th Degree Knight here. Did your father really tell you that he served for twenty years on active duty so that people “can interact ANY way they want” or did you infer that? In the military we’re taught not only how to behave during the anthem, but also why those guidelines exist. If he was ok with people mooning or running around or shouting or cursing or murdering or drowning out the music with obscene music or countless other actions that you suggest he risked his life for by the word ANY, then I think he was mistaken. But somehow I think you’ve mischaracterized your father’s honorable service because you have certain deeply held political views, which is an unfortunate thing to do on Flag Day and the Army’s birthday. God bless you. I hope we can agree that most of our day is free to think and say what we want, but that prayer should guide us in how we choose to act. A rare moment that calls for unity is unlikely the time that God wants us to take a knee. And I also think that God wishes we were taking an authentic knee more often. Attendance rates at Mass are but one sign that we aren’t taking enough knees. Support for murdering children who haven’t even been born or to support members of the same sex to enter a marriage covenant are also signs that we aren’t taking enough knees.

Dolores Pap
2 months ago

My brother wholehearted agrees with the sentiments expressed by J Brookbank, and has told me so repeatedly.Maybe it makes no difference, but he too served his country by volunteering for two tours in Vietnam as a Marine- and he came back with a medal; the man is not a shirker..
He’s absolutely livid that there are people who question the loyalty of those who won’t stand for the flag, but won’t respect the rights of US citizens to follow their own conscience, and use the rights guaranteed them by our Constitution to stand up for what they perceive to be injustices. I salute them for their courage, and I stand with them..

J Brookbank
2 months ago

Dolores, I respect your brother, his service and his respect for protesters deeply. Thank you for sharing this. I stand with those who salute and I stand with those who kneel.

Andrew Wolfe
2 months ago

I've had too much of opinions being attributed to service members by their relatives, rather than first-person. Please speak for yourself rather than draping your opinions in someone else's accomplishments.

J Brookbank
2 months ago

James -- my father was crystal clear about the right of American citizens to interact with OUR flag as OUR conscience dictates. Knights and military members consent to specific requirements in their relationship with the flag; those requirements accrue to Knights and military members but do not accrue to non-Knight or military American citizens. My father was crystal clear and articulate about why he served and the freedoms protected. Every election day in his retirement, he stood on a busy highway with a red white and blue sign that said: "It is YOUR country. VOTE". That message was directed at every single American with a clear understanding that many of those voters would vote AGAINST my father's politics, religious convictions, beliefs petty and profound, people whose expression of patriotism (and even Catholicism) differed from and offended his own. He wanted every single one of us with all of our beliefs and values and goals at the polls exercising our rights. Because THAT is how democracy works and he believed in it and committed his life to it. He was crystal clear and articulate about the fact that his military service did NOT grant him some form of ownership of the flag, the country or "patriotism".

I find that the height of American patriotism: the country and the flag and the anthem and the vote and the government belong as much to the protester as they belong to the soldier. It is a difficult reality here in the US that protests occasionally offends another's sense of appropriate expressions of patriotism, and I have compassion for those military members or supporters who ARE offended by others' relationship with the flag, the anthem, etc. Growing up on war-mobilized bases taught me deep respect and concern for the sacrifices of service members like my dad and service families like mine. But that doesn't change the fact that the flag and the anthem and patriotism are not ours to control or browbeat others with.
(And a merciful, always-available relationship with our loving Trinity belongs to every Catholic as much as it belongs to the most orthodox Catholic. My dad believed that, too.)

God bless you. Thank you for your service.

Andrew Wolfe
2 months ago

I do not accept that you know what your father would say. You should speak for yourself, and not frame your opinions in his accomplishments.

J Brookbank
2 months ago

Duplicate

J Brookbank
2 months ago

Out go the Gospels, written by a bunch of bad debaters who are framing their opinions by claiming they know what their dead bud Jesus said and couching it in his accomplishments!

Andrew is irritated by vast swaths of recorded human history and multiple genres of literature. Got it.

Lisa Weber
2 months ago

I like the view of a veteran I know. He said he fought for people to have the right to protest in this country - including by kneeling during the national anthem. Protesting injustice is an honorable activity in this country.

J Brookbank
2 months ago

Lisa, I agree completely.

J Brookbank
2 months ago

With all due respect, WHY has this Catholic publication now decided to carry on about flag rules? Holy moly. People fight here about rules at Mass. Can we have a break from rules?

Vincent Gaglione
2 months ago

For too many USA citizens the flag has become an “idol.” It is an icon, a symbol, of the freedoms that people in the United States constitutionally enjoy, in fact, even to refuse to honor it according to current cultural norms.

The irony for Catholics is that a genuflection is not a sign of disrespect but a sign of great respect. Inasmuch as the athletes who genuflect to the flag feel that its symbolism is being disrespected by USA police and correction authorities, as far as I am concerned, they are exercising the greatest possible respect to the flag. I refuse to allow a president or cultural norms to define for me what constitutes respect for the flag. That’s another freedom that the flag represents! This is not the imperial USA.

I am always suspicious of flag “wavers.” They tend to have very narrow definitions for others of what “freedom” means.

Andrew Wolfe
2 months ago

You mean patriotic Americans often define "freedom" too narrowly to include abortion? Can you amplify the "suspicions" by which you are accusing this group of infringing on others' freedoms?

Vincent Gaglione
1 month 4 weeks ago

I learned early in my teaching career that one of the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution is freedom of religion. I had a student who was a Jehovah’s Witness who would not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. I recall how many people who claimed that they were true blue Americans could not understand nor accept that the child had a right to remain sitting when they thought that, at least being respectful, she must stand. That simple example is what makes America great. Half the population of the world yearns for such a freedom.

How you conflate the abortion issue with a discussion of the denigration of those who exercise their freedom by genuflecting during the USA anthem baffles me. Stick to the topic at hand I would advise my students when they were writing.

Randal Agostini
2 months ago

I am an immigrant and over the years have owed allegiance to three flags. Each time I understood that the flag represents the virtuous principles of the nation, displaying man's intentions to be honorable. Why would anyone want to dishonor virtue?
Having a right to dishonor is only virtuous when that right is reserved and not displayed. Too often we become embroiled in arguments, for argument sake and then forsake truth, which is our real purpose.

Andrew Wolfe
2 months ago

Kneeling before the Flag poses a three-fold problem for American Catholics. First of all, kneeling is an attitude of honor and respect belonging—in our absence of hereditary royalty—exclusively to God. Second, the whole gesture is a muddle of deconstructed meaning because it is, in Western and other cultures, a sign of respect, but the NFL "anthem kneelers" redefined it specifically as a protest. Finally, in this odd re-framing of kneeling, it's also given explicitly as an indiscriminate and collective accusation of racism against our entire country: it treats Americans as a depersonalized culpable mass rather than as individuals; it is just as hostile, inhuman and depersonalized as racism, anti-Catholicism, or other forms of bigoty.

Sandi Sinor
2 months ago

A flag is not an object to be worshiped. It is a symbol and it should not be made into an idol.

One hopes that it symbolizes good. In the case of the US, the "good" it is supposed to symbolize includes, among other things, the notion (a truly revolutionary idea at the time the words were written) that "all men are created equal". It is supposed to symbolize "equal justice for all". It is also supposed to symbolize the constitutional right to "freedom of speech".

When the country fails to live up to its own stated values, what does "respecting" the flag really mean?

Should it not mean that those who feel that the country is not living up to all of its values can draw attention to these failures by exercising their freedom of speech through symbolic action? Kneeling during the anthem is just such a symbolic action, and should be protected under the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.

I know of many veterans who do not agree that taking a "knee" is a sign of disrespecting them or their service. They believe that part of what they fought for are the values the flag is supposed to symbolize - including equality, justice ,and freedom of speech. Mr. Trump, who, one notes, managed not to serve during the Viet Nam war (too busy fighting his own Viet Nam he said, his personal defensive war against getting infected with an STD), would show real respect for what our military who fight and die for by dropping his war against a handful of football players and the NFL and announcing that those who kneel as a form of protest speech have a right to do so under out constitution.

Rather than purposely creating divisions over people exercising their right to free speech, it would be better if the President of this country worked to ensure greater justice for all - including for minorities. It would be better if ALL worked to alleviate the injustices too often faced by too many Americans, especially by African American males.

James MacGregor
2 months ago

Wow! I'm surely glad that I have R-W-B napkins and that nobody's burning them.

Stanley Kopacz
1 month 3 weeks ago

35 years ago, I saw the biggest Old Glory I ever saw in my life a-waving in the breeze.
It was in Dallas.
No surprise.
It was flying over a Honda dealer.
No surprise.

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