E. A. Blair ruminates on his Independence Day experiences along with some info on the U.S. flag you might not have known.
A Happy 4th to all.
Some years ago, NPR’s Morning Edition featured a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence, performed by members of their news staff. These were people who make their living by using their voices with dramatic effect, and the performance was stirring, to say the least. While listening to it, I felt the recurrence of that naive patriotism I used to feel as a kid while marching in the neighborhood Fourth of July parade to the local park, before the cynicism of adulthood and modern politics washed it out of me.
One of the best features of that reading was that they read the whole thing. Most people only go as far as “…Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness…” before they lose interest. Most people forget that the meat of the Declaration is not in the prefatory remarks, inspiring though they are, but in the specific grievances that follow.
There are twenty-eight specific points listed in the Declaration that are addressed to King George III, and they fall into a number of categories, enumerated here:
Laws: 1, 2, 3, 8, 9,13, 18, 19, 20, 21 (Nine)
Militarism and aggression: 11, 12, 14, 15, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27 (Nine)
Representation and legislation: 4, 5, 6, 10, 22 (Five)
Foreign affairs: 7, 16 (Two)
Redress: 28 (One)
Taxes: 17 (One)
The teabaggers in this country may be disappointed to learn that only one of those twenty-eight points concern taxes; a majority of them are about the colonies’ inability to make their own laws and to not be subject to unwarranted military actions and only one concerns taxes.
The following year, Morning Edition repeated the performance, and that time I read along with a downloaded copy. Eventually, NPR ceased the annual performances, but I continued the tradition on my own, and added to it over the years. Now, in addition to reading the full Declaration, I also read the complete Constitution, including all seven articles and twenty-seven amendments. Over the years, I’ve made my own editions of these documents in a text-based format and annotated them for my own use.
Some years I get really ambitious and go beyond those two seminal documents. At times, I have added the Articles of Confederation, the Treaty of Tripoli, the Northwest Ordinance and even the Constitution of the Confederate States of America (all of which can be found online). One year, I also read through something I hadn’t thought about since I was a kid, which is Title 4, Chapter 1 of the United States Code. Title 4 is composed of laws regarding the symbols and seals of government and provisions for the seat of government. Chapter 1 is confined to matters solely concerning the U.S. flag, and is commonly known as the Flag Code.
Over the years, many zealots in congress have tried to pass a constitutional amendment to prohibit desecration of the US flag. From 1995 to 2006, the House of Representatives passed a resolution for such an amendment six times; each time, it passed the House and either died in committee or failed to pass the Senate. A flag protection act passed in 1968 in response to Vietnam War protestors was declared unconstitutional, as were copycat laws passed in 48 of 50 states.
It never occurred to any of those lawmakers that there already was a flag law in effect, and all it needed was some teeth, because the fatal flaw of the Flag Code is that there is no penalty for violations. Without resorting to the drastic action of passing a twenty-eighth amendment, all they needed to do was pass a code of enforcement to Title 4 Chapter 1.
But in doing so, the conservatives who usually champion such measures would probably be biting themselves on their collective butt. Here are some of the reasons.
Section 3 of the Flag Code forbids altering, imprinting advertising on a flag or displaying a flag with such an alteration or imprint. Interestingly enough, in the District of Columbia, this is a misdemeanor meriting a fine of up to $100.00, thirty days’ imprisonment or both. Every Memorial Day, Presidents’ Day, Labor Day and Independence Day, thousands of merchants violate this rule thousands of times all over the country.
Teabaggers and false patriots love to wrap themselves in the flag, wear the flag, buy flag cakes, use napkins, paper plates, paper cups and lots of tacky little tchochkes imprinted with the stars and stripes. This is where they fall afoul of section 8 of the code, which is titles Respect For The Flag.
Here is Section 8, Paragraph (d): “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.”
Sorry, but that flag comforter on your bed is illegal, not patriotic. Ditto for flag curtains and, literally, wrapping yourself in the flag.
Here is Section 8, Paragraph (g): “The flag should 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.”
Sorry, mister politician, but that flag you just autographed for an adoring voter? That’s desecration, and it’s illegal. Even the president (Dubya was famous for autographing flags) has been guilty of this, many times over.
Here is Section 8, Paragraph (I): “The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be 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. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.”
This is one of my favorites, especially the part about not imprinting it on “anything that is designed for temporary use and discard”. This includes napkins, paper plates and cups, candy wrappers, cake designs, and the like. If you interpret this section strictly enough, this provision actually makes flag-imprinted postage stamps illegal.
Here is Section 8, Paragraph (j): “No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.”
All those flag-imprinted t-shirts, bathing suits and costumes? They’ve got to go.
Finally, here is Section 8, Paragraph (k): “The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”
This provision really has the potential to upset the über-patriotic, since it not only allows the burning of flags, it mandates it. When people turn over discarded flags to the American Legion or some other legitimate patriotic organization for proper disposal, this is how it’s done. Protestors could claim to be following the law if they used a worn, discarded flag to make their statement.
In thousands of parks and yards across the country, the morning of 5 July will find the ground strewn with discarded flags and trash cans filled with the same as well as flag-imprinted merchandise, yet the same people who lust for a flag amendment fail to see this as desecration. They also fail to see millions of flag-printed t-shirts draped over flabby, sweaty bodies as desecration. They fail to see that someone’s refusal to use flag-imprinted stamps as adherence to Section 8, Paragraph (i).
One year, I announced my intention to personally enforce Paragraph (j) by hitting the beaches and forcibly confiscating every flag-imprinted bathing suit I saw, but was warned that I could get into real trouble for trying to enforce a federal law. What a country we have – but that remains a fond Fourth of July fantasy.