This is Part 2 of the series of articles about the history, proper display, handling, and disposing of the American flag. In this Article I will be detailing the proper way to dispose of a flag and how to show the proper respect for it.
The Flag Code states in section 176 (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.” The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of America, Trail Life USA, and the military regularly conduct dignified flag burning ceremonies.
As you see the Flag Code gives very little direction on how to dispose of a flag or when to do it. I have heard some people say when the flag touches the ground, for any reason, it should be destroyed. This is a falsehood. Section 176 (b) of the Flag Code states, “The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.” It does not say the flag must be destroyed if it touches the ground, it only states that it should “never touch the ground.” Therefore, a dirty or soiled flag can be washed or dry cleaned if it gets dirty. If the flag is tattered, or in “such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display” then it should be destroyed.
There are a lot of do’s and don’ts in the Flag Code. The Code is not law, there are no penalties associated with the violation of any of its sections. It was on June 21, 1989 that the Supreme Court ruled that according to the first Amendment Americans have a Free Speech right to burn the American Flag (Texas vs Gregory Lee Johnson).
Section 8 of the Flag Code addresses Respect for the Flag. It suggests certain things that should never be done if you respect the flag. I will name a few of them here.
The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free. An exception to this was granted when our flag was placed on the surface of the Moon. The flag was hung from a vertical pole designed with a horizontal bar which allowed for full display of the flag in the absence of atmosphere.
No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. The flag should never be displayed with the union (stars) down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property. The flag should never have anything placed on it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it. The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything. No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. The flag should never be used for advertising purposes.