By CHERYL DIETRICH [Gettysburg Review] – The Flag Code, codifying respect for the flag, was adopted in 1923. It became public law in 1942. It defines proper care and usage of the flag but imposes no penalties for misuse. It is a gentle law.
In 2007, here in Asheville, North Carolina, two flag-related incidents received a lot of press and public attention. In one, a couple was arrested for hanging a flag upside down and attaching political messages to it. Hanging the flag upside down is an international distress signal, which, they claimed, was appropriate as the country was in distress. Technically, they were detained for resisting the police officer who came to arrest them for defacing the flag. They were released almost immediately with the written equivalent of a mumbled apology for the officer’s “overzealousness.”
In the second incident, the week before the Fourth of July, the city council ordered a fireworks company to remove their flag because its display broke city ordinances about size and distance from the street. The local paper was flooded with letters from outraged flag patriots protesting the condition of this nation when the flag—the flag!—couldn’t be flown freely. Only a handful pointed out that the flag was being improperly, disrespectfully displayed for advertising purposes.
Later, the city council considered creating local laws to enforce the Flag Code, to turn its shoulds into musts. Civil libertarians pointed out that such laws would likely be unconstitutional, so we haven’t heard anything about that proposal in awhile. Just as well. The flag is strong. It doesn’t need our protection.