Respect for the flag

Whether you fly the American flag just on summer holidays or all year round, the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend provides a great opportunity to take a look at flag and how you fly it.

If exposure has taken a toll on your flag, it’s time to replace it. It’s disrespectful to hang a tattered or torn flag.

Today’s synthetic fabrics stand up better to the elements than natural fabrics used in the past, so flying the flag 24 hours a day all year round is acceptable. According to the Flag Code, “When a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day of properly illuminated during hours of darkness.”

When rain, wind, sleet and hail have taken their toll it is time to retire the flag and replace it. A retired flag should be disposed of in a respectful manner. Many Boys Scouts troops and veterans groups will take old flags for respectful burning.

A flying flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, floor, water, vegetation or merchandise. It shouldn’t be “festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free,” according to the Flag Code. It should never be carried flat or horizontally, but “always aloft and free.”

It should not be draped over the hood, top, sides or back of a vehicle, railroad train or boat. It shouldn’t be used to take, hold, carry or deliver anything. It should not be used as a costume or athletic uniform, according to the code.

The American flag should not be used as an “article of personal adornment,” a design on a disposable item or an item of clothing. It should not be used for commercial or advertising purposes. However, the 1976 amendments to the code recognize wearing a flag patch or pin on the left side, near the heart, of uniforms of military personnel, firefighters, police officers and members of patriotic organizations, according to a 2008 Congressional Research Service report for Congress.

On Memorial Day, the flag by tradition and code is displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff.

In short, if you choose to display a flag, you should treat it with dignity and fly it with pride. It should not hang to the ground in your yard or be dragged along the ground by small children who have grown tired of carrying it after a parade or other holiday celebration. Whether your flag was displayed during the winter or stored, before you hang it, give it a once-over to make sure it is in good condition.

Our flag has to bear a great weight. It must support the promise of justice, the dream of freedom and the reality of democracy in a world where all three things are in too short supply. We should give it respect, not because it is a piece of fabric of a certain shape and design but because of all those before us who worked so hard and gave so much to provide us with the opportunity to display it this weekend.