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This Flag Idea Won’t Fly

For the flag-wavers in Congress, these are the best of times and the worst of times. Suddenly, American flags are no longer the exclusive province of fusty Legionnaires or Boy Scouts. Flags are everywhere and indisputably cool.

But with flags this season’s must-have accessory, those who have tried, year after year, to pass a constitutional amendment barring flag desecration are in a bit of a quandary. Flags flutter from cars, in front of houses and in the windows of burger joints. Flags decorate T-shirts, construction hard hats, even underwear. Rhinestone flags adorn lapels, there are flag towels, even flag potpourri holders, and this Christmas, red, white and blue threatens to replace red and green.

This outpouring of patriotism and solidarity is spontaneous and genuine, not a display ordered up for a politician’s photo op. But therein lies the challenge for any flag amendment and one reason why it was always a bad idea. One man’s exuberant display of patriotism could be another’s flag desecration.

In July, the House voted in support of a proposed constitutional flag protection amendment that, if approved by the Senate and ratified by the states, would give Congress the “power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag.” The measure, introduced by Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-San Diego), is the latest in a long line of such silly proposals--all of which so far have mercifully died in the Senate. Cunningham’s may well meet the same fate, but if it were to pass, then the fun begins. In an effort to define “desecration,” Congress’ first source would probably be the Federal Flag Code, an advisory document first adopted in 1923. The code decrees, for example, that the flag should not fly in inclement weather, that it should never be used as clothing or as a receptacle to carry anything. Does that mean Congress intends to tell the construction worker at ground zero to wipe the flag off his hard hat?

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Yes, plastic grocery bags decorated with flags become the repository for kitchen garbage soon after the groceries are unloaded. And flag underwear could be a brisk seller this season. But surely Congress doesn’t intend to send the police to our trash cans and the Fashion District.

Anyway, don’t lawmakers have a few more pressing tasks before them, like going after terrorists and shoring up the economy?


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