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A Question of Balance—Patriotism vs. The Flag Code


The Case

A common dilemma today affects many people and companies in the United States: they want to display their pride in the country by using the American flag. They wear clothing with representations of the flag on it, or adorn their advertising with flags. Car dealerships of all sizes traditionally fly attention–getting flags, and television advertisers cautiously slip in the flag to show patriotism.

Americans are the most creative people in the world, and there’s nothing it seems, that can’t be done with a stars and stripes motif. But how much of it violates the flag code?

Flags Bay sells flags, and yet there was great hesitation to decorate this website with flags. We passed on some great-looking business cards because they were a half-toned picture of a waving American flag. Our business card is a rich splash of red, white, and blue, complete with a star, but it in no way looks like the U.S. Flag.

The Code

What does the U.S. Flag Code say about the display of the American flag?
Here is Title 4; Chapter 1; Section 8(i) from the United States Flag Code:

8(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.

And if this weren’t enough, Section 3, Use of flag for advertising purposes; mutilation of flag, calls for both a fine and imprisonment for this offense. This is the only aspect of the flag code that carries such weight.

Title 4; Chapter 1; Section 3 from the United States Flag Code:

…a representation of any such flag, standard, colors, or ensign, to advertise, call attention to, decorate, mark, or distinguish the article or substance on which so placed shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $100 or by imprisonment for not more than thirty days, or both, …

The Dilemma

In fairness, other than the one section, the U.S Flag Code is not an enforceable set of laws, but rather a set of unifying guidelines intended to preserve our symbol of freedom.

So what are we to do in light of the Code? Can we show our patriotism by wearing flag shirts and displaying flags in our advertising? Or are we in violation and subject to fines and jail time?

I am uncomfortable myself wearing something that represents the flag, but I don’t see anything wrong with the picture at the top of our website. Is that wrong of me?

Hmmm … it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

What’s your opinion? Give us some feedback.

5 thoughts on “A Question of Balance—Patriotism vs. The Flag Code

  1. I never thought of it this way, and the issue has recently come up.
    I just think the flag is beautiful, as well as representing a standard and giving thanks to all of those who have sacrificed for what it stands for.
    These have given me a new perspective. Glad I decided to browse around!

  2. I think that it is very disrespectful to wear a flag as a piece of clothing or worse, a bandana or sweat rag. I feel that it is along the same lines as using a Bible as scrap paper. Service patches, pins, and flags are removed for laundry and disguard. I feel that is the line that should be drawn. Removable

    On another note, most of the “Flag Wear” that I’ve seen in stores isn’t made in the USA.

    1. Robert—you and I think very much alike. Patches or pins, which can be removed, are the best way to wear the flag, and conform to the U.S. Flag Code. But countless patriotic Americans love the flag as much as you and I do, and they want to wear it in every way possible; many of them are veterans. Short of truly egregious violations, I can cope. Thank you for writing, and best wishes, Deborah

  3. What is the protocol for National Anthem singers…….should thye face the flag when singing (often turning their backs on the audience, or is it acceptable to face the crowd?

    1. Hi Keith—thank you for writing. This is a good question. The National Anthem Code does not provide any guidance in this regard. By tradition and common assent, those who perform the National Anthem—singers and musicians—face the audience, and they are excused from saluting the flag. When military bands and choruses perform the Anthem, someone generally stands at attention and “salutes” on the behalf of the organization. This is often the conductor.
      Best wishes,
      Deborah Hendrick

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